For most of the season, the Atlanta Hawks have done a good job of keeping their eyes pointed straight ahead. They haven't allowed themselves to dwell on losses nor have they stopped to celebrate big wins. That strategy has worked well for them in their 40-9 start to the season so it wasn't surprising to see them shake off Monday's streak-ending loss to the Pelicans so easily.
"We've got a lot of season left," said Paul Millsap when asked about the streak. "Nineteen games, that's good. We lost one - 19-1 now. So it's just regrouping. ... We can't let one loss turn into two losses."
That is a good focus for the Hawks because nothing can be done about Monday's loss now. Atlanta came into the game a bit shorthanded and certainly looked fatigued. Atlanta wasn't about to make excuses and rightfully credited the job the Pelicans did at putting them on their heels early.
"They had us on our heels from the very beginning," said head coach Mike Budenholzer "They deserve a lot of credit for us not starting well. Give our guys a lot of credit for a lot of good work over the last month. Tonight wasn't our night. I am very proud of them. We'll get back to work."
New Orleans set the tone early shooting 52 percent in the first quarter and knocking down 4-5 from three-point range to build a 32-22 lead at the end of the first quarter. Atlanta never recovered from that early deficit and the Pelicans had an answer every time the Hawks threatened a run.
DeMarre Carroll returns to action after missing two games with Achilles strain
The Hawks did get a bit of good news on Monday as DeMarre Carroll returned from a two-game absence caused by a strained Achilles. Carroll didn't start but played 23 minutes off the bench and finished with six points and two rebounds. All four of Carroll's attempts came from three-point range so he may still not feel 100 percent but he appeared to be moving well and was able to start the second half.
Getting Carroll healthy is a must especially with Thabo Sefolosha out for the next 6-8 weeks with a calf injury.
Atlanta came into Monday night ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive rating at 99.5 per 100 possessions. After New Orleans put up 115 points in Monday's game the Hawks slid to sixth at an even 100 points per 100 possessions.
Atlanta's been off the chart defensively for much of the season but has slid a bit over the last week. In their last five games their defensive rating has climbed to 106.9. Disregard Monday's game and it is still at 102.6. The Hawks have allowed opponents to score at least 100 points in three of their last five. They won four of those games but that includes wins over Minnesota, Brooklyn and Philadelphia which are anything but offensive power houses.
Why the slippage? Injuries to Carroll and Sefolosha has played a big part and forced Mike Budenholzer to go deep into his rotation. Fatigue and a lack of practice time could also be a factor as the Hawks just finished up 17 games in 31 days in the month of January.
Its not going to get any easier in the short term but an extra long All-Star Break is on the horizon and that should provide the team with the opportunity to get away and recharge for the second half.