The return from the All-Star break didn't go very well for the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta dropped the season series to the Toronto Raptors in a 105-80 blowout loss on Friday at Philips Arena. They will try to get their swagger back and avoid a three-game losing streak for the first time this season Sunday afternoon when they face the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center.
Atlanta has gone just 3-4 since their 19-game winning streak was snapped. They still own a healthy lead in the Eastern Conference but they aren't playing with the same sharpness or an edge that we saw during the streak. Atlanta shot just 33 percent from the field in Friday's loss but after the game it was their defensive effort that most concerned head coach Mike Budenholzer.
Toronto knocked down 45 percent of its field goal attempts and found little resistance. To make matters worse, Atlanta turned the ball over 23 times which led to 30 points for the Raptors. The Hawks are a great offensive team but their elevation to the top of the Eastern Conference standings has been a direct result of their defensive improvements. They aren't going to beat the good teams in the league trying to simply outscore them. They must get back to that mindset.
Atlanta faces a tough task on Sunday against a Bucks team that has won seven straight at home and nine of its last 10. Milwaukee made some roster tweaks at the deadline shipping out point guard Brandon Knight in a deal that netted them point guard Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia. The team also acquired reserve point guard Tyler Ennis and another big to their bench in Miles Plumlee in the deal.
Carter-Williams isn't the same type of offensive player that Knight is but it adds another long defender to the Bucks lineup. Milwaukee played shorthanded on Friday and defeated the Denver Nuggets 89-81. All of the new additions could make their debut on Sunday.
Atlanta and Milwaukee split two match ups so far this season with the road team winning each. The Bucks spanked the Hawks at Philips Arena 107-77 back on December 26 behind a 24 points from Jared Dudley. Atlanta came back one night later and handed Milwaukee a 90-85 loss at the Bradley Center to begin their 19 game winning streak.
Throughout this season, Atlanta has made a habit of stepping up their play when they have needed to the most. They have followed tough losses with winning streaks and have been able to focus in after bad performances. There is no panic in the Hawks locker room and there shouldn't be. The trade deadline came and went but Atlanta still holds the second best record in the league. That is no fluke. Fluke runs don't last for 50+ games.
Still they need to get things turned around and headed back in the right direction. The Hawks worked hard to get to the top of the standings and to give that away during the final stretch of the season would be a big blow heading into the playoffs.
Atlanta has responded well to adversity throughout this season. They get another chance on Sunday.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, February 22, 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM