Five observations from the Hawks’ 113-97 loss to the Trail Blazers Saturday night.
1. Slow start? Almost no start. The Hawks were down by double digits four minutes into the game. They trailed by as many as 23 points in the first quarter. The Trail Blazers made 16 of 21 shots (.762) while the Hawks made 4 of 25 shots (.160).
There was still plenty of game left to play but it was all but over. The Hawks never got closer than 11 points in the wire-to-wire loss.
“It’s terrible,” Dwight Howard said. “We have to do a better job of coming out and getting stops and taking good shots. We can’t do this at home. It’s embarrassing. It’s not cool. … It’s how we start the game. If we give teams confidence from the beginning, they are going to continue to play that way. We dug ourselves a hole.”
Damian Lillard scored 13 points in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 27 points. He had nine of the Trail Blazers’ first 11 points.
The Hawks trailed 40-18 after the first quarter. It was only that close because they forced the Trail Blazers into seven turnovers and they were 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.
“I thought we were poor defensively,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I thought we were poor offensively. We weren’t very good on either end.”
2. The Hawks were without their best player when Paul Millsap was a late scratch due to left knee tightness. The power forward warmed up but was ruled out just before the opening tip.
“It wasn’t best for him short term for him to play tonight,” Budenholzer said. “… As a group you have to step up when a teammate goes down. When one of your better players goes down, everybody has to step up. We didn’t do that in the first quarter.”
Players in the postgame locker room refused to use the absence of Millsap as an excuse. However, they were clearly off from the opening tip.
“We have to play basketball,” Howard said. “If somebody goes down, somebody’s got to step up.”
3. Dennis Schroder struggled for the second straight game. The point guard was 2 of 14 from the field. He did have eight points, seven assists and four steals and only two turnovers. However, he was a team-worst minus 25.
In the past two games, Schroder is a combined 6 of 30 from the field, 2 of 8 from 3-point range and has a total of 18 points.
“It happens,” Schroder said. “Other games nobody says anything when I play great. It just happens. Everybody has games like that. I’m just going to keep being aggressive and help my teammates get some wins.
4. Dwight Howard is getting dangerously close to a one-game suspension for technical fouls. He picked up with 12th of the season after the officials reviewed a play for contact with Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic. A player is suspended for one game for 16 technical fouls during the regular season.
Howard was frustrated by the review and final determination. Read what he had to say about the call here.
“I guess they said he hit him in the face,” Budenholzer said. “I haven’t been able to review the tape whether he hit him in the shoulder or where he hit him.”
5. The up-and-down season continues. The Hawks have lost three straight games. They are just 19-17 at home.
Just last week, the Hawks beat the Raptors to secure the season tiebreaker between the fourth and fifth teams in the Eastern Conference. Now, the Hawks trail the Raptors by three games with 13 games to play. There is a bigger concern now than whether the Hawks can earn home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. The lead the Pacers by just 1-1/2 games for sixth, the Bucks by 2-1/2 games for seventh and the Heat by 3 games for the eighth and final spot.
“It’s frustrating,” Ersan Ilyasova said. “We are losing games when everybody shoots a high percentage against us. We have to be more aggressive and try to figure out them.”