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How the Hawks became scoreboard watchers after another loss

Five observations from the Hawks’ 91-82 loss to the Nets Sunday.

1. There was good news from the Hawks despite the loss.

Paul Millsap is back.

The Hawks best player returned after missing the past eight games with a left knee injury. He finished with 14 points but was 4 of 14 from the floor.

“Overall I felt pretty good,” Millsap said. “I missed a lot of bunnies. It’s to be expected missing that many games. Rhythm is a little off. I felt good. I like the way we are headed. Just can’t wait for the next game.”

Millsap did not start. He came off the bench and played 26 minutes, slightly more than the approximate 24 he was slated to play. Millsap said the plan will be for him to play about the same going forward to work himself back but be cautious.

“I thought his first game back was pretty good,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Obviously, he can play better. There are some looks that we want him taking and that he has converted for four years for us.”

2. The Hawks offense is a concern. Against the Nets, they scored 24, 19, 18 and 21 points, respectively, by quarter.

Budenholzer said after the game he is not concerned with the defense of late. The Hawks have three days before they host the Celtics on Thursday. Expect the offense to be a focal point.

“Really, our defense is not the problem,” Budenholzer said. “… We just have to look closer at our offense. How can we score more or better?”

3. The Hawks tried to slow Nets center Brook Lopez by playing a more agile forward on him defensively. Ersan Ilyasova got the opening call and Millsap took his turn as the Hawks tried to keep Dwight Howard as a rim protector.

It didn’t work early.

Lopez scored a game-high 29 points with 18 coming in the first quarter.

“He’s become such a great 3-point shooter and we were trying to stay connected to him at the 3-point line,” Budenholzer said. “(Rondae) Hollis-Jefferson, I think he’s shooting 20 percent on the year from the 3-point line. He made two and that helped them. (Trevor) Booker hit one that helped them. We felt like we could keep Dwight around the rim and the paint. They are driving the ball a lot. Really, our defense is not the problem. … We just have to look closer at our offense. How can we score more or better?”

The Hawks switched pick-and-roll coverage after the quarter and it slowed the Nets.

“I think once we changed up the pick-and-roll defense, we cut down on a lot of their drive and kick,” Millsap said. “They weren’t able to get that pocket pass off. They killed us with that pocket pass early in the game. Then we started switching it and cut down his touches a little bit and cut down on their scoring.”

4. The Hawks failed to take care of the basketball. It’s something that has become a disturbing trend. They committed 20 turnovers against the Nets, three short of their season high.

While the Nets only turned the miscues into eight points, the Hawks missed opportunities to get on track offensively with empty possessions.

“It starts with me,” Dennis Schroder said. “I have to take care of the ball and make better decisions.”

5. The Hawks were glued to their phones in the post-game locker room. The scoreboard watching is in full swing. The Hawks got a lot of help as the Bulls won but the Bucks, Heat and Pacers all lost.

“I think everybody is disappointed with the loss,” Millsap said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to get some wins. We know that. We’ve just got to make it to the playoffs. As long as we get there, we feel like we have a good chance.”

Not so long ago, the postseason seemed like a foregone conclusion for the Hawks. With five games remaining in the regular season, they are fighting for their playoff lives.

“Everybody knows this is go time,” Schroder said. “Like I’ve said before, we can beat anybody but we’ve just got to be locked in. Everybody has to do what they do. Things they do well, we need that from them.

“It’s five games, we’ve got to fight for the playoffs. We are going to take care of that. Going into the playoffs, we have to be sharper.”

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