The Atlanta Hawks turned in a dreadful performance Monday night in a 97-58 loss to the Chicago Bulls. If the warning flags weren't raised going into the game they are now flying at full mast. The Hawks took a 13-12 lead with over six minutes remaining in the first quarter and then proceeded to take their ball and go home. They stop competing and that is the most troubling sign of them all.
Early in the season this team was exceeding expectations and crediting strong team chemistry as one of the biggest reasons. Right now that chemistry is being put to the test as it looks like no one is enjoying being on the court together.
This Hawks team is not talented enough to overcome breakdowns and that is what made their start to the season so remarkable. They were surprisingly good defensively not on the strength of one player but rather on their success as a unit. They covered up bad matchups with solid rotations. Their solid defense provided easy baskets at the other end and when they weren't running they were routinely moving the basketball, making the extra pass and knocking down shots.
Those things are a distant memory for this team currently as the rotations are now a step slow, The fast break is non-existant and their offense has become a whoever has the ball's one-on-one game.
So how did we get here? What happened?
Atlanta's two best players Al Horford and Josh Smith are struggling mightily during this slide and it is very apparent that they are trying to do too much in an effort to snap the team out of its funk. Smith's scoring numbers of late don't look that bad but his shot selection and decision making do. Even worse Smith's body language has gone south during this streak. Sure he is frustrated but events like what occurred Monday night where he flung the basketball at referee Ken Mauer are hardly things a struggling team needs. Its also events like this that he should look at when he is passed over for yet another All-Star game.
It doesn't stop with Smith, Horford's inconsistencies especially at the offensive end are killer. Jeff Teague has struggled defensively virtually the entire season but has become a non-factor around all too often. Lou Williams hasn't played well since being removed from the starting lineup. I could go on right down the roster but you get the point. There is plenty of individual blame to go around. However, to place the blame on one individual misses the point.
What made this group so good over the first 30 games of the season was them as a collective. They don't have the superstar to simply throw the ball to and say go create something. They don't have that guy that commands respect from the officials and magically gets to the line at crunch time. No this team has to work harder to be successful and that is what made them so fun to watch.
Its also what is most troubling about their play of late. A loss like Monday's can be written off if a team hadn't lost six of seven. Its easily forgotten if that same team hadn't scored nine points in the third quarter against the Celtics after leading by as many as 19 in the first half. You can move past it if they hadn't fallen behind by double digets in each of the past seven games.
This streak puts everyone on this team in jeopardy. While the Hawks were careful not to use the word rebuilding during the offseason, this season is more of a bridge to the offseason and the team's new found cap room. No matter how the Hawks finish the roster is likely to look very different next year. If this team goes into the tank then Danny Ferry may be inclined to start shopping parts a little earlier than expected.
Larry Drew has perhaps the most to lose at this point. He is fresh off being named as the NBA's Coach of the Month for December but has just win 2-5 in January. More troubling is that they don't exactly look like they are improving. What was working early for Drew clearly isn't now. Right now this team looks like it needs a few days away from the game, away from each other to recharge the batteries but the schedule isn't kind like that. Up next is one of the games that true Hawks fans circled as soon as the schedule was released and this team couldn't look anymore unprepared.
Drew has pleaded for weeks now for more energy from his team. He has shaken up the lineup which early on seemed to provide a spark. He is going to have to look elsewhere now whether it be a shakeup to his rotation or a roster move. Something has to give somewhere.
Its been discussed before but this team is often critical of the support that it receives from its fans. Philips Arena often becomes hostile to the home team when some of the NBA's top teams invade. However, it is up to these guys as professionals to give them something to cheer about. Some of this team's biggest meltdowns have come when they are on the biggest stage. Monday's nationally televised loss can serve as evidence to that. As the Falcons have recently shown, if you give Atlanta fans a reason to show up and cheer then they will. Fans expect a professional effort out of their pro teams from the executives in charge down to the players. Monday's effort was anything but professional.