The Hawks soared into the second spot in the Eastern Conference standings at the end of 2015. They had won seven out of eight and were sitting just two games behind the first place Cleveland Cavaliers. With a soft spot in the schedule to begin the new year, Atlanta looked to possibly overtake the top spot at about the same time they did last year with their historic 19-game win streak.
But even with the favorable schedule, 2016 has not started how the Hawks would have liked. A home-and-home with the New York Knicks, whom the Hawks were already 2-0 against, began the new year after four days off. The Hawks came out rusty, and it showed on the scoreboard. The Knicks jumped all over Atlanta from the opening tip as they opened up a double-digit lead in the first quarter that the Hawks were never able to close. Aaron Aflallo made sure the Hawks starters enjoyed some early rest, as he finished with 38 points on 14-17 shooting including 7-8 from behind the arc.
Afflalo did not cool off on the flight to Atlanta. He and Carmelo led the Knicks to victory at Phillips Arena lighting up the floor with 23 points a piece on their way to a 107-101 victory. Atlanta was able to stop the bleeding in a meeting with the lowly 76ers. A game that saw five Hawks score in double figures, as Atlanta cruised to a 126-98 victory.
The best game of the stretch came against the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls came into Phillips arena on a high note after winning six straight games, but Atlanta came to play in a playoff-like atmosphere at home. The Hawks jumped out to an early double-digit lead because of terrific ball movement and suffocating defense. 65 first half points gave the Hawks a 16-point lead heading into the locker room, but the Bulls were not going to let their six-game win streak go without a fight. Jimmy Butler led a comeback to cut the lead to 3 late in the third, but the Hawks could not be stopped offensively and pulled away in the fourth to win 120-105.
Another four days off did not do the Hawks any favors once again. Atlanta headed to Charlotte to begin a two-game road trip and looked completely out of sorts. The Hornets, who had lost seven straight coming in, annihilated a seemingly disinterested Hawks team by 23. Atlanta looked better in Milwaukee for a while but could never put the Bucks away. The Bucks were able to tie the game late in the fourth and left Jeff Teague with an opportunity to end the game in regulation. Teague spent a little too much time dribbling though and only managed to get off a poor shot that was blocked by Michael Carter-Williams. The Hawks were undermanned in OT because of Paul Millsap’s sixth foul at the end of regulation. The Bucks ran away with the game in overtime, and Atlanta dropped their second straight game leaving them in fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Fortunately the schedule does not get much tougher for a while. The Hawks have six meetings coming up with teams that are currently outside the playoffs. However, as we have seen from this current stretch of games, no team should be taken lightly. Atlanta has not been able to find the same mojo that they featured last season, so hopefully this stretch against weaker opponents can help them regain their swagger.