After a great start to the season, the Atlanta Hawks have suddenly hit a bump in the road and with Monday's 99-90 loss to Phoenix, have now dropped three straight all at home. The quality of opponent has improved of late but this Hawks team has hardly competed in those three losses having fallen behind by more than 20 points in each. AJC columnist Jeff Schultz offers up his take on the Hawks current situation:
There are several reasons why this may have happened. The most obvious: Being undersized without two centers, Al Horford (potentially out for the season) and Jason Collins (sidelined for two weeks), has led to physical fatigue, which has led to mental fatigue.
Perhaps this slide is the post-injury hangover that we were expecting right after receiving the news that Al Horford was likely lost for the season. Perhaps Schultz is also right that there is a form of physical and mental fatigue that is starting to set in with the club as well. The problem with that is that this compacted schedule isn't going to offer much relief in the form of off days. It is also important to note that the Hawks aren't the only playoff contender that has hit a bump in the road this season. Teams like Orlando, Denver, Miami, Houston and Memphis have all had difficult times and the schedule is partly to blame for the inconsistent play.
There are other warning signs as well. Josh Smith talked the lack of ball movement before the game and talked about the team's tendency to go one-on-one a little too much (iso). After the game he revisited the topic once again and did not change his stance:
"Like I've been saying, the continuity of our offense and our inability to stop dribble penetration has been a thorn in our side," Josh Smith said. "If we correct those two things, nothing can stop us. You saw on those road games we had high assist totals. These last two or three games, it's been low and the offense has been real stagnant."
In this situation I don't mind Josh saying how he feels because he is right. The movement on offense isn't as crisp and perimeter defense has been bad but he needs to remember that the ball all too often stops with him on the perimeter as well.
In this particular game, Atlanta trailed 27-23 at the end of one and saw the Suns extend the lead in the second quarter. Compounding Atlanta's problems, Jeff Teague picked up his third foul midway through the quarter and he spent the remainder of the half on the bench. Kirk Hinrich replaced Teague and seemed to spark Atlanta's defense somewhat as he got physical with Steve Nash. Atlanta cut the lead to 52-48 with a Joe Johnson. Nash had an answer as he hit a running three-pointer at the buzzer to send the Hawks to the intermission down 55-48.
Atlanta has been plagued for much this season with bad third quarters and that was the case yet again. The Hawks initially pulled to within 60-58 but Phoenix and Nash slammed the door 29-16 in the third quarter to back control of the game. Atlanta's reserves made the final score respectable but this game was over long before the final horn sounded.
Josh Smith led the Hawks with 18 points and also added five boards, three assists and two steals. Joe Johnson added 17 points and three assists. Willie Green helped lead the reserves charge in the fourth scoring 12 of his 14 in the final period. Ivan Johnson added nine points and five rebounds while Marvin Williams finished with eight points and five boards but missed all three of his attempts from distance.
Steve Nash led the way for Phoenix with 24 points and 11 assists. Nash hit 9-12 attempts including 4-4 from three-point range one day before his 38th birthday. Channing Frye added 19 points while Jared Dudley and Michael Redd each added 10.
Atlanta held a slim lead in points in the paint 38-36 but had no answer for the Suns 11 three-pointers made. Phoenix also out rebounded the Hawks 45-35 giving up nine to Channing Frye and seven to rookie Markief Morris off the bench.
Atlanta will try to salvage one game on its current home stand when they host the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.