HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The timing couldn’t be any worse.
Struggling through their ugliest stretch of the season, including Monday’s night’s horrific and his historically bad scoring effort in a loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks are set to host their former franchise player and six-time All-Star, Joe Johnson, and the surging Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night (7:30 ET, League Pass) at Philips Arena.
Losers of seven of their last nine games, the Hawks are losing their grip on what was, two weeks ago, a comfortable top-three position in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The humiliating 97-58 loss to the Bulls has to be the low-point. The Hawks scored just five (yes, five!) points in the second quarter. It was the Hawks’ second fewest points scored in a game in the shot-clock era and punctuated their fifth straight road loss.
When your coach speaks the way Larry Drew did after the game, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Chris Vivlamore reports …
“The disturbing thing is the effort part. I shouldn’t have to come out and coach effort every single night. Effort is what you’re being paid, to bring effort every single night. Maybe it’s the chemistry right now,” Drew said. “I’m going to have to do something to kind of jump-start us again.
“Right now we’ve flatlined. Not just from a physical standpoint. Mentally we have flattened. I’ve got to find a way to resuscitate this team.”
… it’s officially time to start worrying that your 21-16 record will get flipped in the coming weeks.
This is certainly not the sort of mood the Hawks were hoping for in their welcome back game with Johnson and the Nets.
Much was made of his departure, via trade last summer, barely a week into the Danny Ferry era. Ferry was celebrated for getting rid of Johnson’s monstrous contract (as well of that of Marvin Williams in a separate deal with Utah) and freeing up the Hawks’ funds for what could potentially be a huge free agent summer of 2013.
For a while, it seemed that Drew and the frontcourt tandem of Josh Smith and All-Star Al Horford could do the unthinkable and lead the Hawks back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings without their All-Star workhorse. But that was before their current skid, where an assortment of injuries and other issues have combined to stall that effort.
Instead of plotting a course to move up the standings in the New (calendar) Year, the Hawks are struggling to stay afloat while the Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Nets and Boston Celtics are all getting back into a groove.
The Hawks looked like a borderline playoff team before the season began. Their strong early season start gave me pause and made me rethink that stance for a minute. But the first impression of this team turns out to be the lasting one.
Drew better administer CPR quickly, because the upcoming schedule doesn’t ease up. Back-to-back home and road games against the Nets are followed by home games against the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves, a road game against Charlotte. A road game against the New York Knicks is sandwiched between home dates against the Celtics and Toronto Raptors to finish off the month.
If the Hawks don’t clean up the mess within those next eight games, the first month of the year might very well do them in!