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Atlanta Hawks unraveling as playoffs draw closer


Posted Mar 24 2011 8:31PM

ATLANTA (AP) -- The playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks appear to be unraveling as they continue to get pounded at an historic pace.

They say they have become disjointed, too often playing as individuals instead of as a team.

As a result, Atlanta has been blown out at home more often than any team with a winning record in NBA history. The Hawks have suffered five home losses by 20 or more points, including three by more than 30 points. Each ranks as the top total in NBA history for teams with winning records, according to STATS, LLC.

It's little wonder Atlanta's first-year coach Larry Drew this week said his players "have got to heal, more so mentally than physically."

They need to find the cure quickly.

The Hawks (40-32) have lost 14 of their last 21 games and are losing their footing in the Eastern Conference playoff during the freefall.

Drew called his team "a little fragile right now" before Wednesday night's 105-100 loss at Philadelphia. He said he can't explain why his players seem to fall apart when other teams make big runs, especially at the Hawks' home court.

"It's something I've been preaching it seems like every day this month, about how to respond to runs," Drew said. "This game is a game of runs. Teams make runs. You make runs. You respond to it and we just don't respond to it well at all. It looks like we lose interest, lose confidence. We just don't handle it well."

They didn't handle it well against Chicago Tuesday night.

The Hawks trailed the Bulls by 47 before losing by 33, 114-81. Other notably lopsided home losses included a 100-59 loss to New Orleans on Jan. 21 and a 117-82 loss to Philadelphia on Feb. 8.

"Everybody on this team knows their role," guard Joe Johnson said. "Everybody on this team knows what we have to do to win. Yet still we don't come out and do it.

"We're a team that sits here in this locker room and talk all the time about what we want to do and what we need to do. Then we go out on the floor and do things that are out of our character or that's not within ourselves. It makes us all look bad. Until we get that part of the game down, then we're going to continue to look bad."

No winning team has ever looked worse.

The previous mark for home losses by at least 30 points for a team with a winning record was two, held by the 1969-70 Baltimore Bullets and 1970-71 Boston Celtics, according to STATS, LLC. The record for most home losses of 20 or more points by a team with a winning record was four by the 2004-05 New Jersey Nets.

Johnson said "countless" players-only meetings this season "have meant nothing."

Despite their struggles, the Hawks need just one win to clinch a playoff spot. But they don't look much like a playoff team.

They're currently mired in a slump that includes a 4-8 record in March, assuring their first losing month since January, 2009. It ends a team-record streak of 15 consecutive months at .500 or better.

Atlanta finds itself trying to hold off sixth-place Philadelphia, which is just 2 1/2 games behind the Hawks.

Inconsistency at point guard - led Hawks general manager Rick Sund to trade Mike Bibby and two other players to Washington on Feb. 23 for Kirk Hinrich and backup forward Hilton Armstrong. Bibby's numbers were declining as a starter in Atlanta, but since his exit the Hawks' struggles have only grown.

Johnson made his fifth straight All-Star team this year, but his scoring is down after five straight seasons over 20 points per game. His 18.6 average is his lowest since the 2004-05 season, his last with Phoenix.

But Johnson said Atlanta's problems can't be measured by statistics.

He said the Hawks lack "a sense of pride, a sense of urgency. ... We should play for one another, but yet still we don't."

Even though Atlanta's core group has been together for four years, Al Horford - who made his second straight All-Star team - said "We're really trying to find ourselves."

"We just have to be mentally stronger," Horford said.

Forward Josh Smith said the players didn't help each other in the loss to the Bulls.

"When you don't help each other, it gets contagious," Smith said. "We just didn't show any kind of resistance."

Drew has tried juggling his lineup. He has benched small forward Marvin Williams to make room for center Jason Collins in a bigger lineup. He has tried Jeff Teague as the starting point guard.

Drew said this week he is sticking with Hinrich with Johnson in the backcourt and a front line of Williams, Horford and Smith.

The clock is ticking for the players to right themselves before the playoffs.

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