By Frank McLean
This start to the 2016-17 NBA season for the Atlanta Hawks has not been what they envisioned when they got together in the beginning of October for training camp.
They started hot, winning nine of their first 11 games including a four point win over the defending World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Then the wheels fells off, losing 11-of-14, and one of them was a real doozy, a 128-84 thumping by the Raptors in Toronto on December 3rd, the largest margin of victory in Toronto’s franchise history.
However, things have started to get better for the Hawks, three wins and three losses over their last six games. One of those wins was a classic revenge win this past Friday night back in Toronto 125-121 indicating maybe those three wins in 14 games was just a blip. The talent the Hawks have when healthy should not go into such a tail spin.
“We just got to come back tomorrow with the same energy and effort,” Dwight Howard said after the win in Toronto. “Tonight’s over with. If we play with this energy and effort, we should win.”
This year Atlanta features a true all-star center in Dwight Howard who signed as a free agent over the summer with his home town team. He had 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Toronto win for his 17th double-double of the year proving the Hawks now have a legitimate scorer and rebounder in the middle.
Howard’s arrival takes the load off a pair of third year guards in Tim Hardaway Jr. and German import Dennis Schroder who are turning into one of the best young one-two punches in the game.
So how did it all come apart for the Hawks during that 14-game stretch?
“Our season has had up and downs,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “We haven’t been good at both ends of the floor. We are moving back in that direction and getting them where they should be, I think that’s the goal to do it for 48 minutes, but there have been some positives recently.”
The Hawks were considered to be one of the teams, the Boston Celtics being the other, that had a shot at knocking the Raptors out of the second spot in the Eastern Conference.
There are currently 10 teams fighting for the last 6 playoff spots in the conference, the Hawks among them, and they are only separated by just four games.
Budenholzer is confident the Hawks will be there.
“It seems like the last couple of years there has been a big bunch of teams and we think we can separate from them. I think it’s important to focus and get better game-to-game. If we are doing that I think we will be in a good spot.”
One other reason the Hawks went on that three and 11 skid was that the schedule maker gave the Hawks an early five game road trip where four of them were on the west coast and yes they lost all four of them.
“When you are on a long road trip like that practice time is hard to come by,” said Hawks three-point specialist Kyle Korver. “We are getting to have practices now.”
If you saw Friday’s game against Toronto you saw the real Hawks team, a team that can shoot 40 or more percent from the floor and can out rebound an opponent on a two-to-one basis on any night. However, even another Howard double-double with 23 rebounds wasn’t enough for the Hawks to pull out the win over Charlotte on Saturday.
Still, it’s a good bet that the Hawks, if they can stay healthy, will figure it out and be a top four team in the East when the regular season ends.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson