Hawks break losing streak, momentarily easing some early-season angst

Philadelphia's Dwight Howard battles under the basket with Bruno Fernando (24) and John Collins on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, at State Farm Arena. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)
Philadelphia's Dwight Howard battles under the basket with Bruno Fernando (24) and John Collins on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, at State Farm Arena. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

On Monday night, the Hawks ran into a Philadelphia 76ers team even more depleted than itself. Philly had issues with both injury (Ben Simmons knee) and illness (the ripples of Seth Curry’s positive COVID-19 test).

And the Hawks did what they must, run the Sixers ragged in a 112-94 much-needed victory. You don’t halt a four-game losing streak by feeling bad for the other guy.

“What you’re really trying to find and do is capitalize on the moment,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said afterward.

“If you’re playing well you want to be able to continue that on because there are so many unknowns going on in the season. We’re seeing games being postponed (because of COVID protocols); you’re seeing players that are missing significant time. You have to capitalize while you’re playing well and you have your bodies because we don’t know could potentially happen.”

Just bottle the best of Monday and take it from here. “I like the way we played as far as tempo and the way we pushed the ball on offense and just got out and ran and just played,” guard Trae Young said after beating Philly. His lack of production had been particularly evident in the losing streak.

“The way our guys were getting behind their bigs — it was just fun playing with type of speed and tempo,” Young said.

For tomorrow, who knows?

John Collins of the Hawks helps Trae Young up after he was fouled by the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
John Collins of the Hawks helps Trae Young up after he was fouled by the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Everybody has problems. The Hawks have problems, too. Three of their prize free-agent acquisitions – Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Rajon Rondo — have been hurting, with Bogdanovic to be out for weeks more, at least. They drafted Onyeka Okongwu and signed Kris Dunn knowing they had injury issues and shouldn’t be surprised that they are unavailable now (although they may be getting close).

That four-game losing streak wasn’t exactly the product of playing the cream of the conference — losses to Cleveland, the Knicks and two to Charlotte. It will get tougher, like the coming three-game trip at Phoenix, Utah and Portland.

And heaven forbid the Hawks fall victim to the COVID disruptions that are insidiously creeping into the non-bubbled NBA. The week has begun with three postponements. A couple of dozen players league-wide are off quarantining.

“We’re not on solid ground with that as the situation varies day to day,” Hawks forward John Collins said. “You can’t control what guys do. I’m just praying for the best in this situation, trying to be prepared for everything. It’s very tough to predict anything right now.”

That is one big advantage the Hawks have held thus far, that through both their own conscientiousness and blind luck they have been spared losing games or personnel to the virus. That may well be a determining factor in making a postseason. That’s where Pierce’s “capitalize on the moment,” thinking would really show itself.

All this is playing out over a condensed 72-game season, 12% less than regular strength. Everything is a little more magnified, each loss stinging slightly more, each win bearing additional value.

Just 10 games into the season, I found myself getting uneasy. Logically we may know that the Hawks are not as good as their 4-1 start nor as hopeless as the losing streak made them appear. Somewhere in the middle might well be good enough to crack the playoffs, a validation these Hawks require.

Yet, any losing streak, even one but four games long, sets off some real angst this year. Given the shortened season and the rapid, rat-a-tat flow of games, might the Hawks put themselves in a real bind in just the first month of a weird season?

Pierce can’t think that way. “We’ve only played 10 games, we’ve got 62 to go. We’re going to play pretty much every other day. We’ll be able to catch a rhythm. Just as easily as we’ve been on a losing streak, we’ll be able to get on a winning streak as well,” he said.

“I don’t think we’re at a point where anyone’s panicking. If you look at the standings, it’s all pretty much a game away in the losing column. There is plenty of room to move back into the third spot and drop back to the 10 spot within a couple games.” (Such early-season volatility was evident Monday, in which the Hawks began well out of the top eight playoff contenders in the East and ended it at 5-5 and in seventh place.)

Still, best not to make a habit of the four-game losing streak. Best not let many moments go uncapitalized upon, because this isn’t the usual NBA kind of season that forgives the usual lapses and allows ample time to get your stuff together.

Just saying, beware. This is a season in which it’s going to get late surprisingly early.

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