Atlanta Hawks: Make Or Break Week Lies Ahead

Mar 20, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) in a time out during the first half of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) in a time out during the first half of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

As losses and injuries pile up, the Atlanta Hawks desperately need to find some kind of spark to save their season.

In a season that has been riddled with inconsistency, it seems fitting that in a very short space of time the Atlanta Hawks have gone from breathing down the Raptors’ necks for the fourth spot in the East, to now having to worry about the pileup of teams that is currently behind them.

The Hawks remain fifth in the East, as they have done for much of the season, but are now only one game ahead of the Indiana Pacers with the season series between the two teams currently tied at 1-1.

With the way Atlanta’s play has turned recently, those beyond the Pacers in sixth could yet become relevant.

Having fallen to the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night, the Hawks have now lost four straight games at a particularly inopportune time.

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Although their schedule is set to ease up in terms of difficulty very soon, Atlanta’s injury problems mean that even that won’t guarantee a smoother path to victories.

Paul Millsap has missed the Hawks’ last two games with a left knee injury, and will also miss their clash with the Wizards on Wednesday, at the very least. Kent Bazemore is also suffering from a knee injury which in his case could see him miss five games or more from this point on.

The Hawks have tried to approach the news of these injuries in very pragmatic fashion, but as of yet have failed to show they’re capable of rallying without Millsap, in particular.

In reacting to the news of his teammates’ injuries, Dwight Howard explained to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the message inside the locker room was simple.

"“Win,” Howard said of the Hawks’ psyche with the injury news that came down Sunday. “That’s all the mindset. W-I-N. Win. Don’t lose.”"

As much as the sample size is small, the signs from Atlanta’s last two games without Millsap don’t exactly bode well for the road ahead.

On the season overall, the Hawks rank fourth in the NBA defensively only giving up 103.7 points per 100 possessions. Although the team’s offense has frequently stuttered throughout the season, a stout defensive effort has allowed the Hawks to grind out results.

Without the versatility of Millsap on that end, that path to victory looks beyond Mike Budenholzer’s team, though. Without their All-Star, Atlanta ranks a lowly 20th in defensive rating for their last two games, allowing 111.1 points per 100 possessions.

The Hawks haven’t been spared the loss of Millsap on offense either where their below average offensive rating of 102.6 for the season, has also come in way down at 94.7 in their last two outings.

While those numbers might look alarming, the potential cost of the team’s current slump and injury problem could be magnified by the time next week begins.

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Not only are the Pacers in a prime position to overtake the Hawks, but if the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Trail Blazers and Kings, and Atlanta loses to Washington, the Bucks will be playing the Hawks on Friday with a chance to draw level with them in terms of record.

With Milwaukee locked in a battle with Detroit, Miami and Chicago for the final two playoff spots, the Hawks can’t afford any number of those teams to get too close or the season could take a very dark late season turn.

Dwight Howard has had an excellent season in giving the Hawks exactly the type of contribution they hoped he’d offer, but now is the time when they need him to do more.

Dennis Schröder’s flashes of brilliance have often been countered by equally frustrating spells of play, but now Atlanta needs him to stand up and be counted.

The time could come to ask exactly what the Hawks hope to be in the playoffs, but first the priority needs to be finding a way out of their current tailspin and consolidating a postseason berth.

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There’s not going to be anything pretty about the Hawks in the next couple of weeks, but it’s now about survival more than anything else.