The Hawks have lacked energy and effort in what is becoming a trend of lopsided losses, according to coach Mike Budenholzer and several players.
A Hawks loss tends to be a big loss.
When the Hawks lost by 25 points to the Jazz on Monday it was their eighth loss of the season by 20 or more points. The team lost nine times by such a margin in the previous three seasons combined under Budenholzer. That tally include five losses of 20 or more points in his first season and two in each of the next two seasons.
“The key to the whole season has been energy and mindset,” Paul Millsap said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be all right.”
Millsap was asked whether he considered the inordinate number of bad losses for a highly defensive team a trend.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I agree. It has been a trend. It’s becoming a habit. It’s something we have to break. By doing those key things I said earlier, that will help break it.
“If we come focused, come with a competitive mindset, then we won’t get ourselves in a hole like that. When we do, we put a lot of pressure on the defense, a lot of pressure on the offense. The outcome is never good when we do that.”
The trend of lopsided losses has been in full effect of late. In the past 12 games, the Hawks are 7-5. Of those five losses four have been by at least 23 points – Pistons (23), Wizards (26), Heat (23) and Jazz (25). The other loss was by 10 points.
The Hawks have lost four games by 25 or more points this season, including back-to-back losses of 36 and 44 points in December. They lost a combined four games by such a margin the previous three seasons.
The losses to the Jazz this season have come by 27 and 25 points. The loss to the Jazz was surrounded by wire-to-wire wins over the Magic by 27 points and the Nuggets by 11 points.
Of the Hawks 22 losses this season (through Thursday), 13 have been by double digits. It’s a good thing they erased two 20-point deficits for road wins.
“It’s not something that you can ignore or not acknowledge,” Budenholzer said. “We are having games where on both ends of the court we probably aren’t competing and we are not as active as we need to be. Defensively is where we pride ourselves and pride ourselves on being consistent. Some nights the offense will come and go. But even offensively, I think the way we play requires a lot of effort and a lot of activity. When we are having a poor effort and a poor execution on both ends, it’s happening too often.”
This season, the average scores in Hawks losses has been 110.0-95.3, a difference of nearly 15 points a game. Last season, the margin was 104.8-95.1. It was 108.7-97.3 in the 60-win season of 2014-15 and 105.4-96.0 in Budenholzer’s first season of 2013-14.
Overall, the Hawks are fifth in the NBA with a defensive rating of 103.4. They trail only the Spurs (101.3), Warriors (101.3), Jazz (101.5) and Grizzlies (102.4). The numbers make the frequency of blowout losses puzzling.
“We’ve just got to come out focused,” Dwight Howard said. “Everybody has to come out on the same page, especially on the defensive end.”
Budenholzer said the opponent deserves credit. Still, a hot team can be cooled off and the Hawks have not done that on a consistent basis.
“Sometimes you catch teams and they are playing at a high level,” Budenholzer said. “I think we have caught some of that. But it’s the NBA, you have to be ready every night. You are playing good teams who are capable, you have to get them out of their comfort zone and do something to impact how well they are playing.”
The Hawks (31-22) remain in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. They entered Thursday fifth in the conference just a half-game out of third/fourth and 2-1/2 games out of second. However, they are also a 1-1/2 game ahead of the Pacers in sixth. Howard said the team wants to be a top-four team in the conference come the playoffs. Just 29 games remain in the regular season.
Millsap has tried, on several occasions, to be the lopsided losses in perspective. A loss is a loss no matter the final score. However, he admitted Wednesday a defeat by such a large margin stings.
“It sucks to lose,” Millsap said. “It sucks to lose by 20. It sucks to lose by 25. But it’s still a loss. It only goes as one loss on the stat sheet. We don’t want to get any losses but we definitely don’t want to lose by 20.”