The old idiom states that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.
If true, the early schedule this month is certainly biting the Hawks.
After opening March with five losses in six games, Atlanta faces a telling stretch this week with playoff implications. The Hawks travel to the Heat on Tuesday, host the Lakers on Wednesday, host the Suns on Friday and travel to the Nets Sunday.
That’s the defending NBA champion, two teams they’ve already lost to this month and a rematch of their latest defeat with a team they are chasing in the Eastern Conference standings.
The back-to-back games with the Heat and Lakers feature the NBA players of the week for each conference. The league named Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant the honorees Monday.
“We have a lot of tough games coming up,” forward Josh Smith said. “It would be good to get a win, especially on the road in their environment, but we’ve got the Lakers coming up too. They are jockeying for (playoff) position. The month of March is definitely tough for us. We just have to focus, get our rest and compete.”
The Hawks have cited fatigue from a heavy schedule as one contributor to their current slide. Since the All-Star break through March, the Hawks play 23 games (13 on the road) in 36 days, including seven back-to-back dates. The team has no more than one day off between games until the next two-day break April 7-8.
The Hawks (34-28) have slipped in the standings. Following their victory over the Jazz on Feb. 27, the Hawks were 10 games over .500 and fourth in the conference. Going into Monday’s play, they were tied with the Celtics for sixth in the East. The Bucks are only 1-1/2 games back in the final playoff spot. The Bulls are a half-game up in the fifth spot and the Nets, who blew out the Hawks at home Saturday, are 2-1/2 games up in fourth.
“Oh yeah, I’m looking at the standings,” center Al Horford said. “I’m looking at them every day. I’m very aware of what is going on. I see Milwaukee coming on. We are tied with Boston and they have the tie-breaker. Chicago just lost.
“We are aware. Even if guys say they are not looking, that’s not true. We are aware. We are looking. We are paying attention. We are trying to be in the best position we can be.”
If the Hawks are to recover, they must start at the top. The Heat have won 18 straight games, the longest streak in the league this season. They also have won the past six games against the Hawks, including all three this season. The Hawks are in danger of slipping to the eighth spot in the East, which would mean a first-round matchup with the Heat.
“I think we are confident against any team,” guard Jeff Teague said. “We know we can beat them. We just have to go out and prove it. … It’s not like no team can beat the Heat because any team in the NBA can be beaten on any given night.
“(A win) would be big because we are on a skid right now. Just to get a win is all we are thinking of right now.”
The Hawks have 20 games remaining in the regular season. Fatigue may be an issue, but it can’t be an excuse, said coach Larry Drew. Every team deals with the schedule and injuries, which have impacted the minutes played by Hawks starters and top reserves.
“You push through it,” Drew said. “Whether you break through it or not, that remains to be seen. It’s the time of the year when you’ve played 60-plus games and your body starts talking to you. Your mind starts talking to you. You just have to push through it.
“Things may hurt a little bit more. You may feel a little more fatigue. You have to do all the things necessary to enable you to play your best basketball and be able to sustain it down the stretch.”
Notes: Zaza Pachulia will miss his fifth straight game with a sore right Achilles tendon. The center missed practice Monday to visit a doctor for a second opinion on his ailing foot. He did not travel with the team to Miami.
Hawks' next 5 games
(all on SPSO, 680, 93.7)
at Heat, 7:30 p.m. today, NBA TV
vs. Lakers, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
vs. Suns, 7:30 p.m. Friday
at Nets, 8 p.m. Sunday
vs. Mavericks, 7:30 p.m. Monday