This certainly wasn’t what the Atlanta Hawks were expecting. Not after a summer spent on making changes and certainly not after a 9-2 start. Atlanta dropped their fifth straight Friday night and their eighth over the last nine games. It is not the losing that is most concerning, it is the way they are losing which was summed up great by a non-competitive effort in a 121-85 loss to the Pistons. A loss that left head coach Mike Budenholzer short on words and struggling to find answers.
“Detroit did everything well tonight, I don’t think.....not much we can pull off,” Budenholzer told reporters after the game. There were times in the second half where at least there was some progress and better ball movement. Detroit was better than us in every way.”
It is hard to find silver linings in the Hawks’ play right now. They have been trending in the wrong direction on both ends of the court despite still being among the league leaders in defensive efficiency. They fell behind early, fought back and then went away for good. A visible lack of effort led Budenholzer to begin the second half with his bench unit in an effort to find a spark.
“I wanted to try to get a group that could give us a spark and pick it up a little bit,” Budenholzer said. “I liked the way they started the third quarter. Detroit was able to match that and we really didn’t cut into the lead much, if at all. Then they went on another run and took it up into the 20’s.”
By the time the dust cleared, Atlanta trailed by 33 points.
“We’ll look at everything,” Budenholzer added when pressed about what changes can be made to get the team back on track.
Atlanta played its second straight game without Paul Millsap but as important as Millsap is to their success, no one player is responsible for this type of effort.
“We have to stay positive, we can’t make excuses,” said Dwight Howard who finished with two points and six rebounds in 25 minutes. “Don’t put our heads down and things will change. This thing that we’re going through now, even though we don’t want to. It’s best that we’re going through it now and not at the end of the season. There’s a lot of things we need to clean up offensively and defensively.”
When asked about the difference between now and the start of the season, Howard really didn’t have an answer.
“We have to stay positive. We can’t point fingers, we can’t blame it on this situation or that situation. We have to stay focused and stay together. We have to stick together and this will make us a stronger team.”
At some point, this Hawks team has to find themselves again. It was apparent coming into the season that they wouldn’t be a great offensive team but they would be good enough defensively to carry them through. Over the last nine games they have an offensive rating of 92.7 and a defensive rating of 104.4. Under Budenholzer this has always been a team where the defense fuels the offense and that was the reason for the hot start. They have to get back to getting stops, getting rebounds and pushing the ball to attack quickly before opposing defenses have time to dig in.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Korver said of the team’s struggles. “I think our offense is dictating our defense right now. We haven’t had the same energy on the defensive end, and a lot of that is because offensively we haven’t been very good.”
The NBA season is a marathon not a sprint. All teams go through ups and downs and how they handle them dictates who they are. The Hawks are just 20 games into this season but they have their first major test ahead of them and it will be really interesting to see how they respond Saturday in Toronto.