The Hawks are no longer looking up at every other team in the Eastern Conference.
Or nearly every other team in the NBA for that matter.
On Dec. 17, the day after a staggering 144-127 loss at the Nets, the Hawks held a 6-23 record. It was the worst mark in the East. Only the Suns, at 6-24, had a worse record in the entire league.
Things have changed in the two weeks since.
The Hawks, now 11-24, have won five of their past six games, including wins at the Timberwolves and versus the Cavaliers on back-to-back nights. The victories Friday and Saturday marked the first time in 19 months that the Hawks won on consecutive days. The last time the Hawks accomplished the feat was April 6-7, 2017 with wins over the Celtics and at the Cavaliers near the end of the 2016-17 season. The Hawks have had 18 sets of back-to-backs in the season-plus since, losing both 12 times and splitting six times.
Now, the Hawks are currently 12th in the East, better than the Bulls (10-26), Knicks (9-28) and Cavaliers (8-29). And still better than the Suns (9-28).
While any talk of the playoffs would be very premature, that Hawks are trending upward for the time being. They are six games behind the Pistons (16-17), who currently hold the eighth spot in the conference.
“We're a young team with a new coaching staff,” Hawks power forward John Collins told reporters after Saturday’s 111-108 win over the Cavaliers. “It's all about getting together as a group and figuring it out. I think we have been.”
Under first-year coach Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks struggled to start the season as the organization’s near-total rebuild began a second year. Pierce had to deal with injuries from the start as Collins missed the first 15 games of the season with an ankle injury.
On Nov. 25, before a win over the Hornets, Pierce shook up his starting lineup. He replaced Kent Bazemore with rookie Kevin Huerter at shooting guard.
The Hawks have gone 8-8 since. That includes losing starting small forward Taurean Prince two games later to an ankle injury. Prince has missed the past 11 games. Bazemore returned to the starting lineup in place of Prince. He left Saturday’s game with an ankle injury.
“To look at how we were playing, how we were starting games specifically, to stay the same would have been an indictment on me,” Pierce told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week of the lineup change.
The Hawks have also dealt with injuries to rotational players Justin Anderson, Dewayne Dedmon, Alex Len, Jeremy Lin, Miles Plumlee and Omari Spellman.
The Hawks’ recent success may cause consternation to some who would rather see the team finish with a poor record to improve their draft position for 2019. The Hawks could have as many as three first-round picks, but that now seems unlikely with the struggles of the Cavaliers. In addition to their own first-round selection next year, the Hawks hold the Cavs’ first-round pick, which is top-10 protected for the each of the next two years. It appears it will not convey in the next draft. The Hawks also hold the Mavericks’ first-round pick, which is top-5 protected, that would currently be 20th overall.
That’s all months away. For now, the Hawks are playing better basketball.
“We like our back-to-back wins,” Pierce told reporters Saturday. “One in overtime when we were resilient and came back. Then tonight, when we didn’t play our best basketball but found a way to win.”
The Hawks now take their recent success on the road with a three-game trip that begins at the Pacers Monday and continues at the Wizards on Wednesday and at the Bucks on Friday.
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