Katelyn E. Clooney
All good things must come to an end. Just ask the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks, who have climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference, destroying everything in their way, were defeated on Monday night. It was their first loss of this year.
On Friday, Dec. 26, 2014, the Milwaukee Bucks served a 30-point loss to the Hawks. The Hawks beat the Bucks the very next day, then went on to win their next 18 games.
However, the New Orleans Pelicans were not intimidated, as they welcomed the Hawks to the Bayou, and preyed on their fellow birds. Though the Battle of the Beaks ended, 115-110, the Pelicans dominated throughout, leading by 14 at the half and by 19 in the fourth. The Hawks’ future opponents should take notice.
When LeBron James left the Miami Heat this offseason, and signed with Cleveland, many had already crowned the Cavaliers as Eastern Conference Champions. Some said that it would take longer. Some said the Heat would still do well, that they would, at very least, win the Southeast. Others said, “No way!” They thought that this was the year that the Wizards would finally grab hold of that division. No one was talking about Atlanta.
Now, with Monday’s loss, the Hawks have now won “just” 33 of their last 36 games. They lead the Southeast Division, lead the Eastern Conference, and have more wins than any team in the NBA.
With a core of Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Al Horford, the Hawks are 40-9. At least three of the preceding players will play in this year’s All-Star game. Depending on Dwyane Wade’s health, all four may be in action. Korver is a favorite to replace Wade on the Eastern Conference roster, should the Heat guard sit out due to injury. This speaks volumes to the way in which the Hawks play each and every night. Basketball is a team sport and the guys in Atlanta know that. All five starters, including DeMarre Carroll, are averaging double figures in points. On Wednesday, all five starters were named Eastern Conference Player of the Month, by the NBA. The Hawks are the “Grizzlies of the East.”
Teague has increased his scoring each year, since being drafted by the Hawks in 2009. Much like the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley, Teague has steadily improved since coming into the league, yet has remained underrated. Both men, born less than a year apart in Indianapolis, Ind., continue to, not only, improve individually, but, more importantly, they continue to improve as facilitators and floor generals. In the era of shoot-first point guards, Teague and Conley remain unselfish and are excellent at making their teammates excellent. However, much like the Grizzlies, some “experts” doubt whether the Hawks are the real deal.
The Hawks have made the playoffs, in the weak Eastern Conference, the past seven seasons. However, in four of those seasons, including the past three, the Hawks failed to make it past the first round. After acquiring Millsap in 2013, through free agency, the Hawks had reason to be hopeful. However, on Dec. 26, 2013, Horford (who had missed a sizeable amount of time the previous season) suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
Much like many other teams in the NBA, the key to the Hawks’ success will be injuries, or the lack thereof. During their winning streak, the Hawks beat 15 teams that are currently in the playoffs, including Memphis, Portland (twice), and Cleveland. The Hawks, who are 2-0 against the Cavs this season, are a legitimate threat to win the East and have a chance to make a serious statement this weekend. With games against Golden State (Friday) and Memphis (Saturday), the top two teams in the West, Atlanta has a chance to enter next week with the best record in the NBA.
We are just days away from the All-Star break, and there is still no clear favorite in the Association. A strong case to win the NBA title could be made for more than a half dozen teams, including the Atlanta Hawks. Keep in mind that five of the last seven teams to win 19+ straight games, went on to hoist the O’Brien trophy and bathe in confetti as NBA Champions. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. With plenty of basketball left to play, the season will only get more exciting. Stay tuned.