Hawks left facing post-break reality

This wasn’t the worst home loss of the season for the Hawks. Their 123-104 defeat to the Lakers on Monday night was their fourth-biggest losing margin at Philips Arena. 

But two of those big losses came against playoff-bound opponents. This was the Lakers, who are headed to the draft lottery along with the Hawks (albeit L.A. is loaded with the kind of young talent the Hawks hope to accumulate in the next two drafts). 

The Hawks (18-43) were buoyed by a stretch of improved results in the two months before the All-Star break. After their fourth straight loss and sixth in the past seven, the Hawks were left to look for silver linings in a resounding defeat by a middling opponent on their home floor. 

“Considering we got it kind of taken to us tonight, I thought the effort was pretty good and the spirit was good,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We will get better. I think individually guys have got to play a little bit better and collectively we’ve got to be a little bit better.” 

It’s folly to overreact to one bad loss in the NBA. The Hawks get a chance to put it behind them on Wednesday against the Pacers (34-26), the second of four straight games at home. They are 13-18 at Philips Arena with quality victories over the Wizards, Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans, Jazz and Timberwolves. 

But the Hawks’ preseason hopes of beating expectations have faded and the franchise is aimed toward the draft. The Hawks waived key reserve Marco Belinelli before the All-Star break and starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova after it after buyouts. 

It had been a while since the Hawks looked this bad on their home floor, leaving the Hawks to look for positives in the big loss to the Lakers. 

“I think everybody competed tonight,” Hawks guard Dennis Schroder. “Coach told us to compete every game for 48 minutes, and I think we did that.” 

The NBA tends to make market corrections after the All-Star break. The reality is that the Hawks, who face a challenging schedule over the final 21 games, are more likely to finish at the bottom of the NBA standings than to make any significant movement up them. 

How does Budenholzer manage the team under the circumstances? 

“It’s tough,” he said. “You want to have team success. But I think we are growing. Really, even though tonight didn’t feel like it — again, the Lakers played well — I think some of our guys are getting better individually on some of the things we are wanting them to work on. Different guys are getting opportunities. Just continuing to grow and get better. 

“That’s what we’ve been preaching really from the very beginning. Does the message get old? Maybe. But I think these guys are professional and they want to get better and, to some degree, it’s good for them and their career. They put a lot of time and work in before practice, after practice and they get opportunities to go out and play in the game and that’s their lab. Sometimes it just gives you more evidence, more data on what you need to work on and how can you improve.” 

That message seemed to resonate with Hawks players, who seemed optimistic and positive after the loss to the Lakers. Many of them echoed Budenholzer by giving the Lakers credit for playing well and taking solace in what they considered a good effort in a bad loss. 

The exception may have been veteran wing Kent Bazemore, who appeared weary and downtrodden as he headed out of the locker room. 

“Make the right plays, man,” Bazemore said in response to a question about what he’d like to see from the team over the season’s final stretch. “I don’t know. I don’t really have much for y’all tonight.”

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