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Hawks searching for answers after loss to Blazers

Another poor start sends the Hawks to yet another disappointing loss.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks turned in another disappointing effort on Saturday in a lopsided 113-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Hawks found out minutes before the game that they would be without forward Paul Millsap who was a late scratch due to a knee issue. However, the rest of his teammates failed to answer the bell in what was one of the more lackluster performances we have seen this season.

“It was the first quarter that we couldn’t recover from,” Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “We have to start better. We have to be better coming out of the gates.”

The fourth quarter certainly set the stage as Atlanta trailed 40-18 after allowing Portland to go 16-for-21 from the field including 4-of-8 from three-point range. In contrast, the Hawks shot just 4-of-25 and were out rebounded 18-6 over the first 12 minutes.

“I thought we were poor defensively. I thought we were poor offensively,” Budenholzer added on the first quarter performance. “I think the offense puts a lot of pressure on your defense. We weren’t very good on either end, and obviously they were.”

The percentages might not show it, but this was one of the team’s worst defensive performances in some time. Portland beat Atlanta up inside 48-30 in points in the paint while the Hawks struggled to get back in transition.

“It was terrible. We have to a better job of coming out and getting stops and taking good shots.” Dwight Howard said. Howard finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds but was minus-19 for the game. “We can’t do this at home. It’s embarrassing and it’s not cool.”

“We have to play basketball,” Howard added when asked about Millsap’s absence. “When somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up.”

Atlanta trailed by as many as 23 points. They were able to cut the deficit back to as few as 11 but it never felt like Portland lost control in the game. The Blazers shot 51 percent for the game and were 8-of-18 from three-point range. Damian Lillard led all scorers with 27 points while C.J. McCollum added 22. Alan Crabbe knocked down four three-pointers and pitched in 16 off the bench.

“They were using the pick-and-roll really well,” Taurean Prince responded on the performance of Lillard and McCollum. “Their bigs set good screens on our guys, allowing them to get some room to do what they do best, and that’s score the ball. Credit to them — they did what they were supposed to do.”

The Hawks spent much of the evening with defenders trying to fight over picks while Dwight Howard sagged deep into the paint. Lillard and McCollum made them pay repeatedly with a series of wide open pull ups or floaters in the lane.

“We have to come out stronger as a team. We have to do a better job starting the game,” Dennis Schröder said. “The last couple of games, we were just sloppy in the first couple of minutes, putting us in a hole. It’s tough to come back. But when we start good and everybody is playing together, we’re on the same page and that’s what makes us win.”

Schröder finding his groove offensively would certainly help the Hawks as well. He was just 2-of-14 against Portland and is 6-for-30 over his last two games. Before that, Schröder had scored at least 16 points in each of the previous nine games.

“Paul is a big key for the Hawks,” Schröder added. “We heard it a couple of minutes before the game. I think everybody competed. Ersan Ilyasova did a great job. We can’t blame the loss on Paul Millsap not playing. It’s not an excuse. We just have to do a better job.

The loss drops Atlanta to 37-32 on the season. They are now three full games behind fourth place Toronto and just 1.5 games ahead of sixth place Indiana. The Hawks will begin a three-game road trip on Monday in Charlotte. The trip also includes stops in Washington and Milwaukee before they return home to face Brooklyn next weekend.