That the Hawks won 19 in a row — the fifth longest streak in league history — from Dec. 27, 2014 to Feb. 2, 2015 is something to be stored in a glass case and admired from a respectful distance. Like King Tut’s mummy.
Budenholzer certainly won’t mark the anniversary of the beginning of the streak. He won’t send it roses or jewelry. Not even a card.
You know, though, looking back, that streak really was extraordinary. Especially when factoring in the tire fire that had engulfed the franchise just months before (former owner Bruce Levenson’s infamous email, former GM Danny Ferry’s infamous scouting report).
It was the month that raised the Hawks’ national profile more than any in decades and legitimized the franchise’s new leadership. It was a real kumbaya moment for an organization that had enjoyed few eras of good feelings.
Allowing himself a glance in the rearview mirror, guard Kyle Korver said, “To win 19 in a row, that sounds pretty awesome now. When we were in it, (Budenholzer) did a good job keeping us focused on each game. Now when you look back on it, it really was an amazing month.”
To Al Horford’s way of thinking, January is the toughest month on the NBA calendar. It just sort of gets lost between the fresh energy of a season’s beginning and the reinvigorating playoff push. To commit to a win streak during a period when motivation can easily ebb was particularly impressive, he said.
That streak was a testament to a sort of plow-horse mentality that seized those Hawks. Head down, stay moving and keep the furrows long and straight.
There were no buzzer-beaters in the 19 games, nothing particularly dramatic about keeping the winning habit alive.
Methodically, the Hawks went about the business of stacking victories. As they were obliged to, they beat a LeBron James-less Cleveland by eight. They won three games in four days out west, beating Utah, Portland and the L.A. Clippers. They beat Washington by 31. On and on, they ground through their schedule and asserted themselves as a team to be taken seriously.
Actually, the coach’s protest aside, that year-ago streak might have relevance today as a teaching tool, an instruction video on what these Hawks can be if they maximize their efforts.
They could use a healthy little run about now. Theirs is a conference that resembles just so many radishes in the same bunch (at mid-week you were looking at a seven-game difference between the No. 1 and No. 12 teams).
Those Hawks a year ago were 21-8, a game back of first-place Toronto in the East. By Feb. 2, then 40-8, they had a seven-game bulge on the Raptors. These 19-12 Hawks, after a fairly bland beginning, are 2 1/2 games behind first-place Cleveland.
Those Hawks announced their intentions by winning five of the six games preceding the streak. These Hawks have begun to display a little more bounce in their step, too. In a week’s time, they have climbed from ninth in the conference to second.
Certain memories can faithfully serve them going forward into another January.
“When I look back on that stretch it’s amazing how hard we played every night,” Korver remembered.
“For 48 minutes every night, five guys on the court playing as one, we played so incredibly hard for 48 minutes. That’s where our growth needs to be. So far this season we’ve had quarters here, a game or two here and there. But we haven’t really put together long stretches where we’re all in, all focused, all playing as hard as we can. It’s that mindset we have to get back to.”
The most notable of the alterations that took place between then and now was the loss of DeMarre Carroll and promotion of Kent Bazemore to start in his place. The statistical difference between the two is negligible — Bazemore’s points/rebounds/assists line thus far this season (12.6/4.5/2.1) reads similar to Carroll’s last season (12.6/5.3/1.7).
Yes, Bazemore said, the memory of recent consecutive bad losses to Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami are beginning to fade. Another, familiar, feeling is replacing those frustrations.
“We’ve fallen into a rhythm,” he said. “The ball isn’t sticking, the ball is moving. Guys are ready to make plays. Guys are in the right spot. The court spacing has been really good for us of late. Defensively we’ve been flying around and rebounding a lot better (although that is likely to be a stubborn issue this season).
It is Budenholzer’s sworn duty, though, to pour vinegar over any thought that his team is significantly rounding into form just yet.
“We have to be much more consistent,” he said. “We have to play better for more of the 48 minutes. I don’t think any of us feels great about where we are.”
Still, this team set the bar itself a year ago.
So, to rephrase the question: Are you, Hawks, prepared to go out and own January again? Are you committed to not lose another game for a month or so?
“I wish you wouldn’t have said that,” forward Paul Millsap said.