The beatings will continue. But, does morale need to improve?
After just five double-digit losses on the season going into February, our Atlanta Hawks have dropped seven of their last ten deficits by ten or more points, including last night’s collapse at Golden State.
Even with the playing field leveled somewhat by opponents’ misfortunes, the Hawks’ defensive ineptitude has the team failing to capitalize. LaMarcus Aldridge had a rare night struggling from the field on Wednesday. But Blazers were freed up like Lil Boosie all along the perimeter, and offset Aldridge’s lost production with a barrage of open three-point shots. Klay Thompson exits last night with a back injury, and the remaining Warriors shot just 6-for-19 from 3-point range, but the Hawks got gashed in the paint by Jermaine O’Neal and David Lee while shooting just 8-for-34 on threes themselves.
Atlanta is on pace to drop 10 straight away games for the first time since losing their last 13 road games under Mike Woodson back in 2007. Yet there are no signs of finger-pointing, no dissension within the ranks among Budenholzer’s Bunch. It may be that the team is reading its static position in the standings and the “nice try” platitudes in the press clippings, and no one cares enough to find a panic button to push.
With no need to secure an All-Star trip or sustain any NBA records, the “sense of urgency” once preached by Larry Drew no longer reverberates in the locker room. Competitiveness has given way to complacency with the Hawks, but it appears they understand composure will be the key to assessing how victorious this team can be once their treacherous road tour concludes.
Things will get no easier tonight (10:30 PM Eastern, SportSouth, PRIME) against a rested Los Angeles Clippers team that’s won six straight, including an epic serving of comeuppance on their longtime tenant mate Lakers on Thursday night.
Jamal Crawford (19.0 PPG, second in team scoring) has been starting in place of the injured J.J. Redick, but he had to miss the past three games and remains questionable for tonight with a calf strain. Yet Darren Collison stepped up and delivered 24 of the Clips’ NBA-season-high 142 points on the Lakers. Former Hawk Willie Green has struggled mightily with his shot but may get a call to start if Crawford’s a late scratch.
The Clips (43-20) are 8-2 and have averaged 117.3 PPG in ten games since Chris Paul (11.0 APG, 1st in NBA; 10.5 APG since February 1) returned from a month-long shoulder injury. They now average a league-leading 107.7 PPG, a value that doesn’t bode well for a oil-leaking Hawk defense (110.3 opponent PPG in Atlanta’s last ten games).
L.A. shored up their backup forward positions, dispatching Antawn Jamison (to the Hawks) and sending Byron Mullens out to pasture while making room for buyout targets Danny Granger and Glen Davis. Each player is being acclimated slowly but may get significant minutes tonight if Blake Griffin (24.1 PPG, 6th in NBA) and DeAndre Jordan (66.1 FG% and 14.0 RPG, 1st in NBA) need a spell. Atlanta will need another footloose performance from Mike Scott and more elbow shots from Elton Brand to outperform Granger and Davis.
To keep themselves off of the wrong side of SportsCenter highlights and Twitter hashtags, the Hawks will need to shield Griffin 24-7 (DeMarre Carroll in the fullcourt, Paul Millsap in the halfcourt) and keep him moving laterally rather than rolling full-steam ahead toward the basket. Both players must commit fouls judiciously.
Ex-Hawk point guards Rivers and Tyronn Lue have had ample time to gameplan for Jeff Teague. He will need effective screens to free himself up from his Demon Deacon alum Paul (2.4 SPG, 1st in NBA), who is seeking an All-Defensive 1st Team selection for the third-straight season, and make quick and decisive maneuvers with the basketball.
Matt Barnes was unavailable when the Hawks beat the Clippers in December. Today, he'll be latched onto Kyle Korver (23 points vs. LAC on December 4, 6-of-9 on threes, tying the NBA consecutive-game record). With Korver heavily occupied, a big offensive night from Carroll and Pero Antić could stretch the defense and benefit both Millsap (25 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks on December 4; who needs to keep Griffin busy defensively) and Teague finding points in the paint against Jordan (2.4 BPG, 6th in NBA). Re-establishing accuracy on deep shots will be a tall order against the league's best team defensively against the three-pointer (32.6 opponent 3FG%).