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Hawks move closer to being 'complete' in crowded East

A win streak has Atlanta feeling more like their 2014-15 team

POSTED: Dec 24, 2015 11:38 AM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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Increased consistency has powered the Hawks to the No. 2 seed in the East.

Paul Millsap has had to fight the urge regularly since training camp.

Don't look back, don't dwell on the past, don't measure this current campaign against the last.

It's hard to do when you're coming off of a spectacular, franchise-record 60-win season and trip to the Eastern Conference finals. And for the better part of the first month and a half of this NBA season, Millsap and the Atlanta Hawks looked like a team stuck on the memories instead of one capable of a repeat performance.

As recently as this time last week, the Hawks were mired in mediocrity, as inconsistent as any team in the league and sitting on the outside of the playoff picture in the 10th spot in the conference standings. Injuries, a much improved Eastern Conference and a general lack of focus all played a prominent role in the Hawks' early struggles.

That's what makes their rebound so interesting. The Hawks head into their short Christmas break exactly where they want to be, 19-12 and second to Cleveland in the conference standings and winners of five straight games. The San Antonio Spurs (7) and Cavs (6) are the only teams riding a better wave going into their showcase games on Christmas, the Spurs in Houston and the Cavaliers in Oakland to face the Golden State Warriors.

"We've had to remind ourselves to concentrate on the bigger picture and not the emotional ebb and flow of the first part of this season," Millsap said after the Hawks pounded the Detroit Pistons for their fifth straight win Wednesday night at Philips Arena. "Of course, we want to win games. But the main focus is we want to build on last year. At times we've gotten a little complacent, thinking we're just going to get there because we've been there before, but we have to do a much better job of keeping our focus."

Pistons vs. Hawks

Jeff Teague scored 23 points and Paul Millsap added 18 as the Hawks beat the Pistons 107-100.

That wasn't an issue during their 7-game win streak early on, from Oct. 29 to Nov. 7. And it hasn't been a problem during their current run. The Hawks have gotten back to the fluid offense that became their trademark last season, averaging 110.4 points on nearly 51 percent shooting while reaching the 100-point mark in all five games. They are 15-1 this season when they hit the century mark.

The win over Detroit marked a full circle turn for the Hawks, who couldn't handle Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson during their surprising home loss to Stan Van Gundy's upstart team on opening night. They handled the Pistons this time, outscoring them in the paint (56-52) and doubling them up in bench scoring (34-17), thanks in large part to Dennis Schroder's 14 points.

"We've just been more consistent," Kyle Korver said. 'We played good in spurts in the early part of the season, quarter-to-quarter and game-by-game ... but this is as close to a complete game as we've played in a good little while. We're a bit more focused. We're playing with more purpose. And we're doing it for longer stretches."

And yet they are still not playing with enough focus and purpose for long enough stretches to satisfy Mike Budenholzer, who insists his team still hasn't quite put it all together.

"We're getting closer to playing a complete game," Budenholzer said. "I think we're obviously getting closer to where we want to be."

Budenholzer agrees that inconsistency has obviously been the one thing that has plagued this team through first third of this season.

"We've been up and down," he said, "and hopefully we understand what it means to be a consistent team in this league. I think there are a lot of teams in the East and in the league that are looking for consistency. As I said, we're getting closer, but as soon as we relax or we think something's going to be [handed to us] or that it doesn't take this kind of effort and this kind of attention, then we'll be right back to being an inconsistent team."

There's only a game and half difference between the second and eighth place in the standings right now, so Budenholzer's charge to his team is to attack the coming days and weeks with the same sort of focus they have had these past five games.

"The bottom line is the East has gotten a lot better since last year," Al Horford said. "It's like this, you lose two games and you drop down to 10th or you win a few games, like us, and you wake up the next morning and you are second. It's going to be interesting this season to see how everything unfolds in the East. We've seen our share of adversity early, so now it's up to us to stay consistent, don't get too high too low and just keep on grinding."

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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