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Following an embarrassing loss to the Miami Heat on January 12, the few remaining fans in State Farm Arena started cheering "Let's Go Heat." Not only was it loud enough for the teams to hear it, but it was easily picked up on television and radio broadcasts. Twitter quickly lit up with everyone from the official Heat account to Trae Young's father, Ray Young, reacting to the chorus of jeers.

While they dropped their next two games, one in Miami and one against the Knicks at home, something noticeably changed with the Hawks. Their effort was visibly better. Perimeter players fought around screens, the big men hustled to their spots, and everyone closed out on shooters. 

After 42 games, the Hawks had a disastrous defensive rating of 113.8 (28th in NBA). Not only is it impossible to be a championship contender with those metrics, but it's unlikely a team with such a poor defense makes the playoffs.

However, since hitting rock bottom, the Hawks have won their previous four games. During that week-long stretch, their defensive rating is 109.8 (15th in NBA). They went from surrendering 112 points per game (25th in NBA) to 108.8 points per game (17th in NBA). 

I haven't witnessed such a shocking development since Pete Davidson started dating Ariana Grande. It's a small sample size but also a reason for hope and optimism among fans. More importantly, it's a sign that things are working on defense again. And like Pete Davidson's love life, we have no reason to believe this team won't stop punching above their weight class.

Effort and energy have saved the team from the brink of collapse at the midway point in the season. But we also cannot discount the importance of a healthy roster. While Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic work their way back from injuries, De'Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu have reintroduced themselves to the league in a stunning fashion. Both players reinforce the structural weak spots on the roster.

The Hawks still have plenty of work to do after digging themselves in such a hole through the first half of the season. Their offense has never been the problem; they have had a top-two offensive rating for most of the season. But if they can not only maintain but build upon their defensive growth, then they will be a team to be taken seriously. If they can average a top-net rating, then they will be contenders again.

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