It’s hard to imagine things going much worse for the Atlanta Hawks last week. After learning that Paul Millsap would be out for at least a few games, the team dropped games in Charlotte, Washington, and Milwaukee. These aren’t terrible teams to lose to, and playing all three on the road without Atlanta’s best player is a clear disadvantage. However, the losses are starting to pile up, and the team feels almost desperate for a win right now.
If there’s a theme for how everything this week has gone, it’s frustration. Losing six games in a row is inevitably discouraging, and neither the players nor Mike Budenholzer have looked upbeat at any time during the last two weeks. As important as it is to not overreact to a small sample size like these past six games, the team’s performance over this time also raises questions about the upcoming playoffs.
From a statistical standpoint, Atlanta has looked predictably bad during the losing streak. Over these games, the team has a net rating of negative-9.7 points per 100 possessions, a mark that ranks 26th in the league. The Hawks have been able to win an impressive number of games despite a negative net rating for the year, but getting outscored by nearly 10 points every 100 possessions is a recipe for disaster.
There are mitigating factors, of course. Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore haven’t played in the last few games. Two of those games have also been against playoff teams on the road, and Atlanta actually looked fine for most of these contests. The Washington game was competitive until the final minutes, and the Bucks game could have swung either way. Regardless, it’s hard to draw encouragement from competitive losses, and it’s safe to say that Millsap can’t return fast enough.
Perhaps most concerning, the team is now in serious danger of falling down the standings. The Hawks seemed to have the fifth seed in the conference locked up, but now is facing a stiff battle from Indiana and Milwaukee down the stretch. FiveThirtyEight gives Atlanta a very good chance of making the playoffs (94% as of Saturday afternoon), projecting a 42-40 record. It’s comforting that the Hawks are still almost certain to make the playoffs, but falling to sixth or seventh could result in a drastically more difficult first-round series.
Despite sliding projections and a formidable losing streak, there is some good news to consider. The Hawks play the Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers, and Chicago Bulls this week, a much easier slate of games than the team faced last week. Brooklyn only has 15 wins, the Suns and Sixers are both purely looking toward next season, and the Bulls have struggled throughout this year. The Hawks aren’t a lock to win all of these — especially without Millsap — but these next few games offer a chance to improve their record and seeding before the playoffs arrive. Even without Millsap, Atlanta should be able to top Brooklyn at home.
It’s always important not to overreact to a losing streak, but it’s fair to say that the last two weeks, and really all of March have been extremely frustrating for Atlanta. Playing without their best player in Millsap and a solid starter in Bazemore contributed to several road losses last week, but the team has to pull things together at some point if they want any hope of keeping the fifth seed. With an easier schedule on tap for this week, the Hawks’ prospects may be about to get a little brighter.
All statistics are current as of Saturday afternoon.