After an ugly start to the second half, the Atlanta Hawks went on a 38-18 run to open up a ten-point lead against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday afternoon but went on to drop the game 106-104 after some late-game heroics from Jimmy Butler.
Dennis Schröder played well before coughing up the ball on a crucial possession late in the fourth quarter that opened the door for Butler to sink two free throws and move the Hawks to 39-37 on the year, just two games ahead of a spot in the lottery. Schröder finished with 29 points on 12-for-19 from the floor and chipped in seven rebounds and six assists, including a big bucket down the stretch to give the Hawks a two-point lead with 35 seconds on the clock, but Butler and the Bulls were too much for Atlanta.
Dwight Howard added 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Hawks, including another pair of jumpers from outside. Howard has been working with shooting coaches over the past few weeks to improve that area of his game and it’s starting to pay dividends for the Hawks. Opposing big men won’t come out to him that far away from the basket, but if Howard can knock those shots down, it’ll open up a bit more space for an offense that desperately needs it.
The Hawks’ bench was key to the big run in the third and fourth quarters to get them back into the game. Mike Muscala shot 3-for-3 from deep and finished a team-high +14 in 18 minutes on the floor. Kent Bazemore came off the bench for a second consecutive game as he returns from injury. Bazemore and rookie Taurean Prince shared Butler duty on the defensive end, but neither were particularly effective at stopping Butler from getting to his spots.
The Hawks are now a full game out of the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and just two games ahead of Indiana, Chicago, and Miami, who are all sitting on equal 37-39 records in the 7th, 8th, and 9th spots. One of these teams will be left standing when the music stops and the way the Hawks have been playing recently, it’s not a sure thing that they won’t be the odd men out. Atlanta has a quick turnaround a game tomorrow in Brooklyn at 6 PM before three full days off. After that, the schedule gets tight, with Boston and two games against Cleveland next week. With just six games left in the season, a two-game lead in the standings gives them the advantage, but nothing is certain yet.