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Defensive effort failing Hawks since hot start

This Hawks team no longer knows who it is.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this season, it looked like things could be challenging for the Atlanta Hawks on the offensive end of the floor. They sunk to the lower half of the league in offensive efficiency during the 2016 season and none of the changes they made over the summer did much to move the needle on the offensive end.

Their calling card however, was on the defensive side and the addition of Dwight Howard appeared to have given them the rim protecting presence that they had lacked for a long time. They flexed their muscles early during a 9-2 start and looked like they might be league’s top defensive unit. Since then they have lost 11 of their last 14 games and while the offense has predictably struggled, their calling card defense has vanished and that was never more apparent than in Tuesday’s 131-120 loss to the Orlando Magic.

“Give Orlando a lot of credit. They had a lot of guys individually play really well,” Mike Budenholzer told reporters after the game. “I thought they made a lot of shots. I’m sure we can be better defensively.”

It would be easy to laugh this off as a silly one-game performance if that was actually the case. Orlando came into Tuesday night with a 29 ranked offense and proceeded to shoot 59 percent from the floor including a 15 of 34 mark from three-point range. The Hawks have now allowed at least 100 points in eight of their last nine games. Whatever momentum they had built early on the defensive end of the court is long gone and this is now a team without an identity.

“We need to be better defensively,” Budenholzer added. One-hundred and thirty-one points is never acceptable. They had several guys individually that had some good nights. I thought the turnovers, in addition to their good play, you couple that with the turnovers and the easy baskets in transition, and they end up with 131.”

Atlanta “only” turned the ball over 15 times in this game which is two below their season average. However, the Magic were able to turn those extra opportunities into 26 points. Atlanta’s change in philosophy regarding crashing the offensive glass has come at a price. Their once vaunted transition defense has been getting shredded of late as a result.

The frustrating part of this night is that it wasted one of their best offensive performances of the season. When the Hawks score 120 points, they should be settling into a blowout not scrambling to keep themselves within striking distance.

“Our offense was good,” Kyle Korver said after the game. “Overall, we’re still ranked pretty high on the defensive end of the floor. Tonight we gave up 131? That’s too many. It’s way too many. Offensively I thought we were alright. Obviously you have to score a lot of points if you give up 130.”

The Magic may be hard pressed to duplicate this offensive performance again this season. Once they got rolling, it didn’t look it mattered if a Hawks defender was in the area or not. Still, it is on the Hawks to set the tone early especially at home and allowing 35 points in the first quarter to a bad offensive team was a good indication as to what was coming.

“They made a lot of tough shots,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said of his team’s defensive performance. “You have Elfrid Payton making a floater with the shot clock running down. It’s just that type of night. They did a great job. Give them credit.”

“We have to do a better job on the defensive end, help each other out on the defensive end.”