Last Thursday, the Atlanta Hawks coughed up a second-half lead against the Utah Jazz. After the game, Trae Young said of the team's mentality, "I think guys are learning that we're no longer the hunters. It's regular season. I'm not going to lie; it's a lot more boring than the playoffs. You got to find that motivation to play like the playoffs."
Since that time, things have gone from bad to worse for the Hawks. Despite having double-digit leads against the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors, the team found ways to lose both games. The Hawks have now lost four straight and six of their last seven games.
Following last night's loss to the Warriors, Hawks coach Nate McMillan was just as confused as the rest of us on why the team is lacking a sense of urgency. "I can't explain that. There shouldn't be a lack of urgency. We talk about good starts, strong finish, and we're not finishing strong."
The general malaise has resulted in disjointed and incomplete performances from the Hawks. The team received praise all offseason for its depth and roster configuration. However, the bench has been an Achilles heel in most games. Confusion over well-defined roles coupled with inconsistent performances has resulted in blown second-half leads.
Since defeating the Hawks in Atlanta, the Jazz have dropped two straight games thanks in part to ice-cold shooting from outside. Tonight, Donovan Mitchell will be playing which will only make this game more challenging than last week's matchup. Not to mention the Jazz were off last night, while the Hawks were getting dogged by Stephen Curry before catching a late flight to Salt Lake City.
The Jazz injury report lists Elijah Hughes (non-COVID-related illness) as questionable and Rudy Gay (right heel injury recovery) as out. While we await an official injury report from the Hawks, we can go ahead and count Onyeka Okongwu (right shoulder injury rehabilitation) out. Also, since it's the second night of a back-to-back, a few game-time scratches are always possible.
SI Sportsbook has the Jazz listed as 8-point favorites. That's tough but fair. The Hawks have not given us reason to believe in them since they demolished the Mavericks on Opening Night. A Hawks victory tonight would be a major upset.
More important than one game or one road trip, the Hawks have to figure out the root cause of what ails them. Is it poor shooting translating to bad defense, as Coach McMillan keeps suggesting? Or is it lack of flow and boredom like Young has posited? The Hawks are expected to drop tonight's game, but they have to start building as a team. Each night out, they repeat the mistakes from the previous game. They're better than this, and everyone knows it. Now it's just time for them to prove it.