It was not a good two days for the Hawks.
They dropped games to the Heat and Magic on Friday and Saturday – teams that were a combined 46-70 and 24 games under .500.
“All of us collectively need to find a way to be better,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said after a 105-86 loss to the Magic. “It’s important that it starts quickly.”
The recent trouble has not just been over the weekend. The Hawks (32-26) have lost three straight games by a total 53 points. They are 10-10 over the past 20 games and 23-24 since a 9-2 start to the season.
“We don’t want to be a .500 team,” Budenholzer said. “You have to go out on the court and execute on both ends of the court. At the end of the day if it’s 20 games and we are .500 we have to be honest with ourselves and find ways to improve whether it be small things or big things.”
Discipline involving Dennis Schroder has been central to the two most recent losses. The starting point guard was suspended for the game against the Heat. In the first game back from the All-Star break, he failed to return to the team on time due to a visa issue after spending the league hiatus in Germany. Schroder was a late scratch from the starting lineup against the Magic after it was reveal postgame that he was late for the team bus to the arena.
Schroder started the second half after the benching. He finished with 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 31 minutes. He refused comment on the incident following the game. His coach and teammates addressed the issue.
“We continue to hold our entire roster, all of our players, accountable,” Budenholzer said. “Our culture is important to us. Respect for your teammates is important to us. That’s our job and that’s our organization’s job is to continue to build on our culture.”
“It hurt us last night not to have him,” Paul Millsap said. “It hurt us tonight not to start with him. Those decisions are left up to the organization. We have to accept what it is. Dennis is sorry. I think he wants to be on the court. It’s something we have to get over. These two games we have to put behind us.”
The Hawks are still fifth in the Eastern Conference but are 2-1/2 games behind the fourth-place Raptors and 2-1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Bulls and Pacers. The prospect of hosting a first-round playoff series is rapidly slipping away. The Hawks won 60 games and made it to the conference finals two seasons ago. They were eliminated in the second round last season. They are in jeopardy of a first-round exit this season.
The Hawks want to be playing well down the stretch and into the playoffs. It’s not happening.
“We have to get it together,” Dwight Howard said. “It ain’t on the coaches. It’s on us. The coaches are not out there playing. There not making decisions for us. So, it’s on us.”
The Hawks have added several new pieces and Millsap cautioned it will take time to come together.
Millsap was asked for the reason for his optimism.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “We are trying to do the right things. We just have to be patient with it. We have to build up to it. I think we can turn it around.
“I trust the system that we have. I know if we do it right, and I’m a witness to it, if we do it right we’ll have success. It’s just about trusting the system.”
The Hawks play at the Celtics, second in the conference, on Monday. They return to Atlanta for a season-long six-game homestand. Those game are crammed into 10 days and include the Cavaliers, Warriors and Raptors. A two-game road trip to the Grizzlies and Spurs follows.
Tough times behind. Tough times ahead.