After winning 60 games and advancing to the conference finals last season, the Atlanta Hawks were expected to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East this season. Well, the Hawks didn’t really do that at the begging of the year, staring 14-12 and falling to 33-28 after a 109-105 overtime loss to the Warriors in Golden State on March 1.
Since then, however, Atlanta has won 12 of its last 14 games to improve to 45-30 and assume the 3-seed in the East.
That’s more like it.
“I think there was a lot of speculation on the outside about what we were going to do (this year),” Kyle Korver said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I think after last year, expectations were high. We came out the first part of the season and we weren’t playing as well as we wanted to. This is pro sports. What you did last year doesn’t really matter a whole lot. It’s all about what you’re doing today and what you’re going to do for the team this year. Obviously there’s a lot of speculation and we kind of went through all that and we came out at the trade deadline and just kind of settled in. I think our defense has been a lot better this year. Our offense is catching up and I think we’re peaking at the right moment.”
The Hawks, who have won nine of 10, once again have a balanced scoring attack, with five players averaging double figures. Paul Millsap leads the team with 17.2 points per game, while Al Hereford and Jeff Teague aren’t far behind with 15.3 points and 15.1 points, respectively. Korea is averaging 9.4 points and shooting 39.8 percent from three-point range.
So, just how good are the Hawks? Are they simply on a nice run but still the team that struggled in the first half of the season, or are they a team that can legitimately compete for an Eastern Conference championship?
“I really think we’re the latter,” Korver said. “I really think we’re playing our best basketball. I think last year, everything was kind of new to us. We hadn’t played with a target on our back. There was a lot of success early, and I feel like we maybe peaked early. I didn’t think we were playing our best basketball at the end of the season. I think this year we really had to grow as a team. I think our offense last year was just really easy for us.”
Korver believes that opponents caught on to the Hawks’ pass-happy offense and have tried to make them more of a one-on-one team.
“It’s been harder to get shots, so we’ve had to grow and adjust to that,” Korver said. “But I think our offense is better prepared for the playoffs. I think our defense is better than last year. . . . So I think overall, we feel really confident. I actually feel like we’re a more talented, better team than we were last year.”
Atlanta plays the Raptors (49-24) in Toronto on Wednesday in a possible second-round playoff preview. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. ET.