|Lou Williams' expression sums up the Hawks' recent struggles to a tee|
Once upon a time this season (in fact, back on December 29th), the revamped Atlanta Hawks were on a roll, sitting at 19-9 and appearing to be a force-to-be-reckoned with in the Eastern Conference, a few months after getting rid of their franchise player, Joe Johnson, in a glorified salary dump. Since that high point, Atlanta has been nosediving in the standings as normally happens when you lose seven of nine games, especially to brutally bad teams like the Pistons, Wizards, and the Cavaliers to name a few. I didn't think the Hawks would be particularly good this season, with the massive roster overhaul of this offseason, but I didn't know they could possibly be as bad as they are right now.
One could say that the lowpoint of the recent Atlanta fade was Monday's embarrassing loss in Chicago to the Bulls. The Hawks scored–not a typo–20 points in the 1st half of that game, and just 38 more in the 2nd for a gross game total of 58, which obviously paled in comparison to the 97 points Chicago posted on the evening. Their final points scored, points scored in the 1st half, and points scored in the 2nd quarter were all franchise lows, record-setting lows to be expected when shooting under 30 percent (24-82) for a whole game and when being outrebounded by 20 on the dot. It was just an ugly and listless performance for a team that was on the up-and-up for much of the season.
That was a game that, according to this article on the Bulls-Hawks game by Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, precipitated changes amongst a team and players that, if their win-loss record and game performance in recent weeks was the only thing considered, have appeared to check out or possibly have stopped giving the effort needed to win. Granted, in the NBA, seven games isn't a whole lot, but it is enough of a sample size to start asking legitimate questions about the future success of a team. The awful way in which Atlanta has played during this skid just furthers the potential idea that the early season success of this team was just a mirage and that its true ceiling may be at or around .500, just a few games below where the Hawks' record sits at right now.
Compounded to the poor play on court, the one-game suspension of Josh Smith earlier today by the team for "conduct detrimental". Smith, who was widely involved in trade rumors over the summer and even last season as well, is extremely talented but has the classic attitude problems of star players who cause more troubles for the teams they play for than they solve. The suspension levied on Smith, that he served last night against the Nets, shows his immaturity and how he is certainly not the personality who has the leadership skills necessary to bring a team out of the massive slump Atlanta is currently in. If there is any hope the Hawks can rebound from their brutal struggles of late, and they probably will, someone like Al Horford or Jeff Teague will have to help them resurrect them, not someone of Josh Smith's ilk.
The positive steps the Hawks took last night in their romp of a win over the Nets were certainly in the right direction, but don't call them out of the woods just yet. Brooklyn was playing in their 2nd game of a back-to-back after a win over the Raptors at the Barclays Center on Monday night. Atlanta was also helped out by the fact that the Nets were ice-cold from the field, shooting an uncharacteristic 42.5 percent from the field in the loss in Joe Johnson's return to Atlanta. Both Deron Williams and Johnson couldn't find the shooting touch at all, allowing the Hawks to run out on a lot of fastbreaks and get easy transitional baskets, helping Jeff Teague score a game-high 28 points and lead his team to a rout over the previously-hot Nets, cutting Brooklyn's seven-game winning streak.