What is wrong with this Atlanta Hawks team? While injuries no doubt helped derail the season the Hawks have been inconsistent at best since getting most of their players back. Wednesday night's loss to the Chicago Bulls was a familiar tale as the Hawks came out strong but inconsistency turned a potential win into another loss.
"Mentally, we need to be a little bit sharper with our passing and our turnovers," said head coach Mike Budenholzer following the game. "There were a lot of turnovers that were, to some degree, unforced. I think our mental focus wasn't there for 48 minutes like we need it to be when you're playing a good defensive team like Chicago. We came out with great energy and great pace. We had 31 points in the 1st quarter. We hit a little lull in the second and they got an 8-point cushion. We weren't really able to get back on top of them after that..... We have to get to work tomorrow."
Perhaps Chicago, who has owned the Hawks of late, is a bad example but its interesting to some degree that Budenholzer once again talks about focus. The Bulls are a great defensive team and give Atlanta fits even if they are at full strength but far too often over the last month we have seen these lapses or inconsistent performances cost the Hawks dearly.
"I wouldn't say the effort wasn't there," said Paul Millsap. "The effort was there. The execution wasn't there. Focus may not have been there. The effort was definitely there."
By all indications this team thinks of itself as a playoff team. Whether or not the thought of a potential Top 10 pick has creeped into the mind of the front office is unknown but the players want to be part of the postseason. They still clearly control their own destiny but are making things tougher on themselves with each passing day.
"This team is competitive," Elton Brand told reporters after the game. "There's no quit in us. We're going to play it out until the end."
The end begins on Friday when the Hawks host a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is making its own last ditch effort for the playoffs. The Cavs have won two straight and are two back of the Hawks and the Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Cavaliers got point guard Kyrie Irving back from injury on Wednesday in a 119-98 win over the Orlando Magic.
Lou Williams talked about the importance of getting back on track on Friday. "It is important because we lost tonight. It is important for us just to get back on track."