ATLANTA (AP) - When Mike Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks try to defend their home court for the first time this season on Friday night against the Toronto Raptors, the first-year head coach will have a simple wish list for players: Get back on defense and pick up the open man.
Offense wasn't an issue in Wednesday's season-opening 118-109 loss in Dallas. Defense, that was another story.
The Hawks too often left Dallas shooters unguarded in transition and the Mavericks made them pay, hitting 44 of 77 shots (57.1 percent), including 11 of 24 3-pointers.
Atlanta's transition defense was terrible, largely because the Hawks spent too much time concerning themselves with sticking to the opponent they were assigned to defend.
Budenholzer's first coaching adjustment is simple:
"If you sprint back, you've got to take care of the basket first, and then the ball and then the most dangerous (potential shooter) - in that order," Budenholzer said. "A lot of times if it truly is transition, you don't end up with your own man."
Still, there were bright spots in Dallas.
Point guard Jeff Teague had 24 points, nine assists and four steals while doing a nice job triggering Budenholzer's new offense. Newcomer Paul Millsap scored 20 points from the power forward spot previously manned by Josh Smith, and another newcomer, Cartier Martin, added 17 points off the bench.
But Atlanta's defense was dreadful.
Teague believes the chief correction figures to be elementary before DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and the rest of the Raptors arrive.
"We were running back to our own man; that's stuff you learn in second grade," Teague said. "They were getting easy baskets. We've got to get back in transition and match up. It doesn't matter who you guard.
"We made mistakes. We're learning. We're a new team. We'll get better."
Budenholzer suggested a few days ago that the Hawks were further ahead in learning his new defensive systems than the offense. It sure didn't look that way against the Mavs.
"For any team to be good, it starts with transition defense. We'll build from there. That's our priority looking at the film," he said. "It's new habits for some people so we're going to keep pounding on that.
"I think everybody is looking forward to playing at home in front of our fans, and getting after it and competing again and feeling the energy in the building."
The Hawks are going to want to be better on the boards, too. They were outrebounded 42-33 by the Mavs as the two players most likely to lead them in rebounds, Millsap and center Al Horford, were limited to five each.
That doesn't bode well against a Toronto team which had a 48-33 rebounding advantage in a season-opening 93-87 win over Boston on Wednesday. Raptors newcomer Tyler Hansbrough grabbed 12 boards, holdover Jonas Valanciunas had 11 and Gay added eight.
Horford, who had 11 points, five steals and four blocked shots against Dallas, expects Atlanta to play better. He averaged 24. points and 11.0 rebounds against Toronto last season as the Hawks won two of three meetings.
"It's always exciting to play at home in front of our fans, and get things on the right track," Horford said. "After looking at film, transition defense hurt us a lot. We saw our mistakes, and the things that we need to make adjustments on."
Raptors coach Dwane Casey also wasn't happy with his team's defense Wednesday, letting the Celtics shoot 48.5 percent, but Gay came away pleased with the team's performance.
"I think we are in a pretty good spot. It's the first game of the season and the first real minutes we've played," said Gay, who had a team-high 19 points. "... I think we could have played a lot better but a win is a win."
The Associated Press News Service
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