Recapping the Atlanta Hawks’ 5-game Western Conference Trip They will play at home for the next two games, where they can hopefully turn things around.
The road trip started with a 129-120 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, March 2nd. Gerald Green scored 33 points and the Morris brothers combined for 39 points and 17 rebounds for the Suns, who matched a season high in points and three-pointers made. For Atlanta, Jeff Teague shined in his matchup against All-NBA caliber point guard Goran Dragic, scoring 29 points to go along with 9 assists and 6 rebounds.
Atlanta then traveled to Portland for a Wednesday night contest that will go down in basketball history, much to the chagrin of Hawks fans. Atlanta fell behind 56-38 by halftime and went on to lose 102-78, yet this was far from the only loss of the night. Beloved NBA veteran Kyle Korver went 0-5 from three-point territory, bringing to an end his record-setting streak of 127 consecutive games with at least one three-pointer made. Said Korver of the streak: “Someday I’ll look on it and be proud. Not tonight, obviously. This was a tough game all the way around for us.”
The road trip continued with a 111-97 loss at the hands of the Golden State Warriors two days later. David Lee had 18 points and six rebounds and Jermaine O’Neal added 17 points and eight rebounds off the bench to lift the Warriors on a night that Stephen Curry was only able to provide 13 points. The silver lining in this game was Paul Millsap’s return to action after a five-game hiatus that began when he suffered a right knee contusion back on February 21st. Millsap ended the game with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
The very next night Atlanta faced a red hot Los Angeles Clippers team at the Staples Center, and gave them all they could handle in a 108-109 defeat. Paul Millsap filled the stat sheet with 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals. Pero Antic returned to the starting lineup to add 16 points and six rebounds, however Antic and the Hawks’ frontcourt had no answer for Blake Griffin, who finished with 27 points on 11-19 shooting. The game marked the seventh straight win for the Clippers and the sixth straight loss for the Hawks.
Atlanta salvaged its Western Conference road tour somewhat with a 112-110 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night. Former Jazz players Kyle Korver, who scored 26 points on 6-6 from three-point range, and Paul Millsap, who added 23 points and eight rebounds, helped lead the way for Atlanta in a much needed win. The Hawks shot 48.7 percent (38-for-78) from the field and 44.8 percent (13-for-29) from 3-point range to snap a six-game losing streak and close out the road trip on a high note.
Some takeaways from the road trip:
Teague-Korver-Carroll-Millsap-Antic will be the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. This is the lineup that has had the most success for the post-Horford Hawks, but injuries have disbanded the group for much of the past two months. They finally look fully healthy again and, in the two games since coach Budenholzer renamed them the starting five, have led the Hawks to a one-point road loss to the hottest team in the NBA in the Los Angeles Clippers as well as a victory over the Utah Jazz.
Atlanta can count on Elton Brand, Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack moving forward. Elton Brand and Mike Scott will return to bench rolls following the return of Millsap and Antic, but alongside Mack, have established themselves as legitimate contributors. Brand, Scott and Mack all did a praiseworthy job both as starters and as top reserves off the bench. Brand in particular looks to have revitalized his career as one of the better backups in the NBA.
Pero Antic’s impact is greater than his statistics show. It is no coincidence that Antic’s month long absence from the Hawks lines up with their worst stretch of the season. Atlanta had won four of five games leading up to Antic’s January 22nd injury, and amassed a 4-13 record between hen and his March 5th return. In the two games since coach Budenholzer reinserted Antic back into the starting lineup Atlanta has looked like a new team. His ability to shoot the ball from the center position helps Atlanta’s spacing issues on offense and on defense he gives Atlanta a much-needed rim protector to aid Atlanta’s efforts to quell the production of opposing big men.
Jeff Teague is getting hard to rely on. Teague had been on a tear in the games preceding the road trip and dropped a 29-6-9 night in Atlanta’s March 2nd game against the Suns before regressing back to substandard stats in the final four games of the road trip. Teague’s regression over this road trip sheds light on the inconsistency that has plagued him since December; after averaging 16.9 points, 8.2 assists, and 2.9 rebounds over the first two months of the season, Teague’s dipped dramatically in January, rebounded nicely in February, and have fallen considerably thus far in March. It is impossible to trust Teague on a game-to-game basis.
Something is clearly up with Lou Williams. He played only five minutes versus Portland and has been a healthy scratch in every game since. Said Coach Budenholzer of the situation: “It’s one of the hardest parts about coaching. You can’t play everybody.” Lou’s scoring average have dropped from 14.1 points per contest on .422 shooting from the field last season to 10 points on .382 from the field this season. He denies the fact, but his injury is likely not fully healed.
The Hawks are a completely different team with Millsap at full health. Millsap gives Atlanta a legitimate go-to guy on almost every possession, which is something that can’t be said about anyone else on the team. Millsap came up huge against his former team with 23 points and eight rebounds, and was a big reason Atlanta was able to hold on late.
Things could be worse. As it stands, the Hawks are clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with a 3 ½ game lead over the New York Knicks. The Hawks have a woeful 10-24 record in road games this season and, as Soaringdownsouth writer Wes Morton wrote earlier in the week, are 0-17 against teams above .500 in these road games. Luckily for Atlanta, the last 20 games of the season will feature 13 home games and 7 away games, so the playoffs remain a realistic bet.
The Hawks will return home to the Phillips Arena to take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 EST.