Hawks already facing ‘tough year’ of playing hard but losing

Dennis Schroder watched his Hawks teammates play hard without him at Miami but they still lost. (AP Photo)

MIAMI—The Hawks have lost three of four games on a season-opening trip that concludes Thursday in Chicago. If there are any conclusions to be drawn from those contests — and it’s early, so maybe there are not — it is that the Hawks will play hard, and if they get down big, they will not stay down.

“That’s the heart of the team,” Taurean Prince said after the Hawks lost at Miami on Monday. “This is what we do. That is one thing you are not going to have to worry about with the Atlanta Hawks, is not bringing it every game. The competitiveness, the heart, that will be there every game.”

The Hawks demonstrated as much in overcoming second-half deficits of 21 points against the Heat and 16 against the Nets on consecutive nights. But those games also showed that the Hawks lack the depth of talent to sustain good play for long stretches against opponents who have better players or more players who can score when points are absolutely needed.

“We are going to keep going,” Kent Bazemore said. “We all understand that we are still learning. Everyone is in a different situation than (in the) past or, frankly, they’ve ever been in. We know we are in this together. We win together, we lose together.

“It’s going to be a tough year. But if we can continue to plug away and keep the effort consistent and once the offense starts rolling around where we start making shots and start getting better shots through our offense, things will start to look up.”

The Hawks finished a victory in the opener at Dallas. But to do that, the Hawks needed a superlative effort from Dennis Schroder, several misses on open 3’s by the Mavs and a soft interior D they could exploit. The Hawks had the best player and enough competent rotation pieces to match up with the Mavs.

Two nights later in Charlotte against a better opponent the Hawks built a 20-point lead, but, in the end were outclassed by Kemba Walker, Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard. Walker was the best player on the floor, and the other two would probably be the second- and third-best players for the Hawks.

The Nets are not a good team, but Allan Crabbe is a good scorer and D’Angelo Russell is on the come. Those two made the winning plays after the Hawks tied the score late as Schroder was fading before getting hurt.

The next night in Miami, the Hawks were without Schroder, but came back to tie the score early in the fourth quarter. Heat guard Goran Dragic was the best player on the floor, and he had several experienced and useful rotation players around him to help the Heat keep the Hawks down.

Afterward, coach Mike Budenholzer pointed to the spirited comeback in the second half as something for the Hawks to feel good about.

“One of the things we said at halftime was that they shot the ball incredibly well … (but) we have to make them earn every shot and every point,” Budenholzer said. “I thought our guys did that. We found a way to scrap our way back into a tie game. That effort and competitiveness is what we want to build on. You want to go on the road and have some success but I think there are things we can learn from tonight and build off.”

The Hawks are a scrappy team, as advertised. And maybe they out-finish the Heat if Schroder and fellow starter Ersan Ilysasova were in the lineup. But even at full strength, the Hawks probably are going to have a lot of games like these past two: trying hard but losing.

That’s pretty much what GM Travis Schlenk foretold before the season when he declared the Hawks would “play hard, and play together and play the right way and we are going to be able to live with the results.” The Hawks have only played four games, and they can get healthier and better, but that’s how it’s shaping up.

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