ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks are in the midst of the franchise’s worst losing streak since 2004-05.
Those Hawks won 13 games that season. The last loss of that 14-game losing streak came in a 109-101 overtime decision against the Toronto Raptors. Center Predrag Drobnjak led all Hawks in scoring that night by pouring in 21 points. Hawks guard Tyronn Lue knocked down two free throws to force the game into the extra period with 11 seconds remaining in regulation. Raptors guard Jalen Rose led all scorers in the contest with a 30 piece himself. Hawks rookie forward Josh Smith had 19 points, shooting two-of-three from beyond the arc, and 12 rebounds in the losing effort. Jason Collier contributed 14 points for Atlanta.
This time around, the losing streak has hit double digits with no signs of slowing down, but one bright spot for the Hawks in the team’s most recent losing streak, however, is veteran guard Jeremy Lin.
In the team’s latter two games of the ten-game drought, Lin averaged 22.5 points, six assists and two rebounds against the Raptors and Boston Celtics.
“I’m getting back to being confident and trusting myself,” Lin said. “When I get out there on the floor, I don’t really think too much. I just play and trust my instincts. Obviously, there’s film work and things that I’m always trying to work on, but when I get out there, I just try to have a ton of fun, and get lost in the game.”
In some ways, it’s been a tough year for Lin. He was traded to Atlanta, his sixth different team since 2012, from the Brooklyn Nets this summer while still rehabbing from a ruptured patella tendon that he suffered in last season’s opener at Indiana.
A few weeks ago, Lin’s body “turned the corner,” and he said that he has felt better on daily basis ever since. His improving health and ability to play basketball again this season is one of the main things that Lin said he was thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend. In addition to his health, he’s thankful for his family, faith, and close friends.
Head coach Lloyd Pierce rewarded the backup point guard’s play with more minutes than rookie starter Trae Young against both the Raptors and Celtics.
“I’m going to play fresh energy, I’m going to play competitive,” Pierce said during the team’s shootaround before Friday’s game against Boston. “I’m going to try to keep the guys, when we make those runs, on the court. We don’t have a LeBron James, or a Kyrie Irving tonight. [Where] it’s just, ‘give me the ball, let me just, I’ll break this run real quick.’ We’ve got guys that when they play well together, we’re pretty good … that last game we played [against the Raptors], our second unit came in and gave us good minutes. Jeremy had a good game, DeAndre’ [Bembry] gave us a competitive defensive spirit, I thought Justin [Anderson] provided a nice spark for us. That was the reward, those guys played more minutes.”
Pierce’s rotation decisions constantly cause a debate between many fans who follow the team. The most vocal of those arguments are at the point guard position: if Young should get more minutes to develop and the Hawks should trade Lin in order to allow the rookie that freedom, or if Lin should continue to get more minutes because he’s been much more efficient than the struggling Young.
While the outside noise appears to be building, Lin said that the key to Young climbing out of the slump was to keep his composure on the floor.
“I think [he] needs to keep staying patient, let the game come to you,” Lin said. “Obviously, there’s a balance between imposing your will on the game, and letting your game come to you. It’s a tough balance to strike, and teams are gunning for him right now, which is difficult.”
During the week-long period where Young stayed in a gym twice after games to put up more shots, Lin said he doesn’t fear for the rookie’s future.
“He loves the game, he truly wants to be great,” Lin said. “He has an unbelievable confidence about him. Honestly, I’m not even that worried about him. I’m thinking [that] he’s going to be just fine. He’s going to be a great NBA player in this league. He’s already shown big-time, big-time flashes and glimpses. What a lot of people were saying about him early on when he got drafted in Summer League, I think a lot of people are realizing they’re wrong.”
Adjusting to a new city
Lin remains one of the more impactful faces in the NBA on a global scale.
This past summer in China, he held a charity game where 18 million people viewed it online. For perspective, 1.6 million people watched the Ball brothers’ Lithuanian debut earlier this year. Lin was also a part of a reality basketball show that has racked up more than a billion views. He also has a chain of basketball schools overseas.
On Nov. 20, he, along with John Collins and other Hawks employees, delivered Thanksgiving meals to the Center for Pan Asian Community Services on Shallowford Road. Lin still speaks to groups at Hawks road games.
“I just try to be the best role model I can be, try to make my fans proud, and try to do things the right way,” Lin said. “My fans have been with me through a lot of tough stuff. I know they always have my back, and that makes it easier for me.”
Now living in Atlanta, while Lin is still searching for a permanent church home, he has many Christian friends in the city, and he greatly values the city’s different opportunities to explore.
“I like the city a lot,” he said. “It’s really nice, actually. It’s a lot better than what I thought it was going to be. There’s a lot to do, a lot of great food, and a lot of great people.”
The Hawks players, as well as many of Lin’s fans, wanted to see an end to the losing streak. The nine-year veteran’s presence will continue to be crucial in down times like this throughout the season for the team.
“We have to stick together, play together,” Lin said. “We have to play for each other. I think [that we] have to hang our hat on playing harder than the other team, and I think that starts on the defensive end. Everything else kind of flows from there.”