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Hawks struggle in 92-84 home loss to Wolves

Even with Dwight Howard on the sidelines, the Hawks should probably beat the Wolves. On Wednesday, they did not.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks entered Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves shorthanded and that certainly had an impact. However, the team scuffled offensively throughout the night and, in the end, the result was a 92-84 loss in front of the home fans.

With Dwight Howard out of the lineup, the Hawks elected to deploy a small-ball starting lineup for the second straight game. This time around, it did not work well. The Wolves raced to a 12-2 lead as Atlanta floundered on both ends and Mike Budenholzer pulled the plug within four minutes.

Immediately after, the home team awakened, zooming to a 16-3 run of their own after Mike Muscala entered the contest. From there, the rest of the half was largely level, with the Wolves leading the majority of the way but by a manageable margin.

The first quarter saw the Hawks struggle defensively (119.3 defensive rating) but much of that damage was done in the early going. After that point, the unit stiffened (102.8 def. rating for the half overall) but the offense scuffled even while playing against a relatively porous defensive group.

Kyle Korver put forth four blocks, Paul Millsap had 12 points and 7 rebounds and there were several bright spots prior to halftime. Still, the Hawks trailed by a 49-44 margin based on that lack of offensive firepower and Tim Hardaway Jr. exited the game with a groin injury that he would never return from on this night.

Coming out of the halftime break, it was the Mike Muscala show. The big man singlehandedly led the Hawks to an 8-2 run and Muscala scored 11 points (on perfect shooting) within the first six minutes of the third quarter. That showing represented most of the fireworks in an otherwise “blah” quarter, but Kent Bazemore punctuated things with a dunk in the closing seconds and Atlanta held a 69-67 lead with 12 minutes to play.

The fourth quarter was more of the same back and forth, as neither team held what could be described as a safe lead. With 5:41 to play, the score was knotted at 80-80 and it appeared as if the contest would go the wire. From there, though, the Wolves were simply the superior team.

Minnesota outscored Atlanta by an 8-2 margin over the next four-plus minutes, as the Hawks simply couldn’t execute offensively. From there, the team was backed into a corner with a six-point deficit and only 90 seconds to play. Dennis Schröder connected on a lay-up to bring the home team within four, but a Gorgui Dieng jumper with 42.3 seconds remaining effectively ended the threat and that was that.

Paul Millsap (18 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) and Dennis Schröder (21 points, 7 assists, 1 turnover) put together strong individual showings for the Hawks, and Mike Muscala (16 points on 6 of 9 shooting) was tremendous off the bench. Still, the offense struggled to a scoring clip of just 92.4 points per 100 possessions and not even an off shooting night from the visiting Wolves could overcome that lack of production.

The team must now regroup before traveling to Denver to take on the Nuggets on Friday evening. Stay tuned.