The Hawks headed out west with a two-game winning streak and a nice opportunity to improve upon it with a four-game stretch against the bottom half of the Western Conference. The Western Conference has not presented the same sort of dominance that it featured from top to bottom last year. Several teams have taken huge steps back, and while the top four in the West may be tough, the conference has completely lost its depth. Atlanta went an outstanding 22-8 against Western Conference teams last season, but headed into the trip with six losses already to such opponents.
The Hawks started the trip off right with a 104-98 win against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers had been playing good basketball of late and are keying in on that 8th and final playoff spot in the West. However, the Hawks were still too much for Damian Lillard and company. Paul Millsap led the way per usual with 23 points on 7 of 10 shooting and also added 9 rebounds. Kent Bazemore, who has been the surprise of the year for Atlanta, also added 23 points.
The rest of the trip did not go as planned. Atlanta headed to Sacramento to take on the Kings, who currently own the 8th and final playoff spot in the West. Sacramento features one of the league’s most explosive offenses, but has struggled on the defensive side of the ball. Their game versus Atlanta did not resemble that. The Hawks managed to only score 88 points on 41% shooting, as they fell to the Kings 91-88. Rajon Rondo continued to prove he is one of the league’s best point guards with another triple-double. Demarcus Cousins also pitched in his usual 25 points and 15 rebounds. Atlanta had a chance to tie the game with a three on their final possession, but failed to get off a shot.
After the loss, the Hawks headed to Phoenix to take on the lowly Suns. The Suns were 1-9 in their last 10 games heading into the matchup with the Hawks, but Atlanta played the game without Paul Millsap, as he sadly lost his grandfather last week. We send the Millsap family our condolences. Phoenix led for the majority of the game, but the Hawks were able to battle back behind the terrific efforts of Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore. With the score knotted at 95, Phoenix got the ball with a chance to win on the last possession, and they made the most of it. Alex Godwin hit a three-pointer with 0.1 second remaining to give the Suns their second win in their last 10 games.
The Hawks played their best game of the road trip in Denver. The Nuggets had been playing some of their best basketball of late, but they were simply outmatched against a Hawks team that was clicking on all cylinders. The Nuggets failed to shoot over 40% from the field, while Atlanta shot over 50% on their way to a 119-105 victory. Paul Millsap returned after missing the previous game and led the team in points and rebounds with 22 and 9.
Atlanta heads back home for one game against the Los Angeles Clippers. They then hit the road again for games against the Pacers and Heat. Atlanta had a great opportunity to gain some ground on Cleveland with a favorable schedule in their previous games but failed to do so. The Hawks head into a much tougher part of their schedule, but Atlanta simply needs to focus on getting back to form. There is no reason this team cannot be achieving a much higher level of success, and while 60-wins this season is a pipe dream at this point, the form that got them those 60 wins last season is very much achievable for this group of players.