The Atlanta Hawks went 1-2 this week, capping everything off on Friday night with a horrific loss to the Sacramento Kings. Nothing terribly important changed in the standings this week, as the Hawks stayed in fifth place in the East, but the team showed a concerning inability to hold a lead. In both the Wednesday win against the Nuggets and the loss to Sacramento, Atlanta let significant leads slip away late in the game.
While it may seem odd to claim that a team is still finding itself at this point in the season, the Hawks’ overall performance this week (and really the month of February so far) shows that the team is still solidifying its identity. Normally a solid defensive team, the Hawks gave up points easily in all three games this week. The trade deadline is looming, and these next two games could be very important.
Atlanta started the week with a 120-95 loss at home to the Utah Jazz, beat the Denver Nuggets at home by a score of 117-106, and finished the week with Friday’s 108-107 loss to the Sacramento Kings. There isn’t too much to say about the Utah loss — this game was a lost cause almost from the beginning. The Denver and Utah games were a bit odd, though, as each could have been an easy win for the Hawks (the team held big leads in each one). While the team’s inability to hold leads in these two games is concerning, the recent overall defensive performance is even more alarming.
In the month of February, the Hawks have the NBA’s 13th ranked defense in terms of defensive rating. This isn’t the end of the world since the team has only played six games so far this month, but most of the teams on the slate so far (with the obvious exception of Houston) aren’t elite offenses. Atlanta has been a top-five defense for the season, so whether or not this is a new trend or just a statistical blip remains to be seen.
The Hawks won’t be a good team if they can’t play good defense, and the looming presence of the trade deadline hangs over everything they’ve done this month. As much as it seems that Paul Millsap is unlikely to be traded, rumors will continue to swirl until the deadline passes on February 23. If a trade does happen, Atlanta could expect to get a good package in return for the veteran forward.
It is unlikely that the next two games will determine whether or not the Hawks make significant moves soon. Since these are the only remaining games before it arrives though, these next two contests — against the Portland Trail Blazers and LA Clippers — are more important than most regular season games. If Atlanta can post a better defensive showing against two good offensive teams, that will be an encouraging sign for the rest of the season.
Early February can often be a weird time for teams that are unsure of their trade prospects, and the Hawks are no different in this regard. Major moves seem unlikely, but nothing can be guaranteed. Regardless, Atlanta will play the Trail Blazers and Clippers in two important games this week, and then Hawks fans can get ready to watch Millsap in the All Star Game.