Hawks in worst slump of season with playoffs approaching
ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Hawks spent some extra time in the film room Monday. They didn't necessarily like what they were seeing but couldn't argue with what it showed.
The East-leading Hawks are in a slump.
For the first time all season, Atlanta (53-17) has lost three straight games - the last of them an ugly defeat at home to San Antonio, which was up 20 before some fans had settled into their seats.
For a team modeled on many of the concepts that made the Spurs a five-time NBA champion, the Hawks learned a harsh lesson Sunday: They can't just cruise into the playoffs on autopilot.
''It's good to see it, man, and get better from it,'' forward Paul Millsap said, finally emerging after more than an hour watching tape of recent games. ''We need to know what we're lagging at and get back to what we do.''
During a stunning 41-game run before the All-Star break - exactly half the season - the Hawks went 36-5 and allowed just 94.4 points a game. They surrendered 100 points a mere 14 times in that stretch.
Since the All-Star break, Atlanta is 10-6 and giving up an average of 99.3 points. The 114-95 loss to the Spurs marked another first this season, the Hawks allowing triple figures for the fourth game in a row.
''We need to get back to being a good, efficient defensive team,'' Millsap said. ''That's our main goal right now.''
Forward DeMarre Carroll said the Hawks spent a good part of the session going over some new defensive alignments. He conceded they've become too predictable in their sets, making it easier for teams to take advantage of the lapses.
''We're going to need different defensive coverages going into the playoffs,'' Carroll said. ''You can't stick with one.''
Coach Mike Budenholzer, a long-time assistant with the Spurs, has tried to follow the philosophy that works so well in San Antonio, resting his starters periodically - especially when there are back-to-back games - in hopes of keeping them fresh for the playoffs.
But Budenholzer must walk a fine line to ensure his players don't lose the urgency they've had much of the season, especially with only a dozen games left before the postseason. The Hawks next play at Orlando on Wednesday.
''We want to be playing good basketball going into the playoffs, we want to have an edge going into the playoffs, and we want to be healthy going into the playoffs, '' the coach said. ''That's our challenge.''
After remaining essentially injury-free much of the season, the Hawks have run into some health issues.
Forward Thabo Sefolosha, a key reserve off the bench, hasn't played since Jan. 30 because of a strained right calf. Budenholzer said he is ''very, very close'' to returning.
Another important member of the bench, forward Mike Scott, has missed nearly two weeks with a toe injury and could miss another two weeks before he's ready to return. The good news for the Hawks is that after initially being diagnosed with a broken toe, another examination showed that Scott's injury wasn't that serious. He should definitely be back at full strength by the playoffs.
Finally, All-Star guard Kyle Korver is wearing a protective mask while he recovers from a broken nose. Korver struggled in his first game with the contraption Sunday, attempting only four shots while turning the ball over five times.
During the film session, Budenholzer encouraged plenty of back-and-forth, wanting his players to feel as though they're taking a role in turning things around.
''Coach was allowing us as players to give feedback on what we like to do, what we think works, and he was giving us feedback,'' Carroll said. ''The film doesn't lie. There were a lot of things we were doing earlier in the season that we aren't doing now.''
The Hawks hope to learn something from this tough stretch.
If used right, it could help develop some extra resiliency they'll need for the playoffs.
''Actually, when adversity hits, it's always good for you,'' Carroll said. ''You know how to adjust to it. You know the things you need to do and be prepared for. I'm happy it happened to us now, before the playoffs. As a team, it's only going to make us stronger.''
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