With so few victories to show for the effort, the only experience for the Atlanta Hawks in the desert this NBA season turned into another disappointment.
Sitting with a nine-point lead with just under two-minutes to play, the Hawks did not play scared, but did not play to win.
That was the assessment of Kent Bazemore, who hit his first seven shots in an eventual 104-103 loss to Phoenix. With a contribution of 20 points, Bazemore popped in four of five from beyond the arc, and kept his team in the game.
In the final 120 seconds, the Hawks managed three points and all from Dennis Schroder. Yet, it was poor decision making from Schroder which let this one get out of hand.
Down by three in the fading seconds, Schroder, instead of trying to tie the game with a three-point attempt, decided to drive the lane and was called for an offensive foul. That enabled Devin Booker to covert three free throws with 12 seconds remaining, and send the Hawks down to their 27th loss of the season.
That was the kind of play which Bazemore referenced, and a characterization that the Hawks proceeded through the final minutes trying simply to avoid another loss.
“I think we were playing not to lose,” Bazemore said afterward. “That’s something my college coach thought us that there is a difference between not to lose and playing to win. We took our foot off the gas there a little bit and got out of our plan.”
Coming into this initial contest of a five-game, western trip, the Hawks had gained momentum. Winning three of their previous four, all at home, coach Mike Budenholtzer pointed to the key variable he wanted to see from team on the trip.
With only three road wins outside of Philips Arena, that production remains one of the lowest in the league. With the New York Knicks, Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets also with only three road victories, Budenholtzer explained what his team had to do to stay competitive.
“We did some positive things over the past 10 days or so, but that was done at home,” he said. “The challenge is to go on the road and play consistent basketball.”
Given the reality of few points in the paint, the consistent play needs to come from the perimeter.
Against the Suns Tuesday night, that production was consistent, but not the kind of attack needed to develop a balanced attack. From the field, the Hawks shot 41.1 percent and that’s in relation to their season average of 45.8 percent.
This time, the Suns’ 50.6 percent from the field surpassed their season average of 44.3 percent. Plus, the Suns converted 19 of 26 from the free throw line, and Hawks continued to send Devin Booker to the free throw line where he hit 14 of 15 attempts.
Next stop is Portland this Friday, then games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers and a Jan. 10 finish in Denver. The Hawks return to Philips Arena Jan. 12 to face Brooklyn.