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Hawks falling from East's Elite?

Every NBA team goes through a mini-slump during the season. Well, maybe not the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls who finished 72-10 and lost consecutive games only once. But pretty much every other “mortal team” will lose a few games in a row.

Is that what we are seeing right now from the Atlanta Hawks, or have one of the East’s surprises simply been playing over their heads for much of the season?

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After falling by 17 points at Miami on Monday, the Hawks are on a season-high four-game losing streak (1-3 ATS). In fairness, three of those games came against playoff-caliber opponents: a back-to-back against Cleveland, then a home loss to improving New York before Monday’s Heat loss. But Atlanta was only 2-2 in the four games before that, including blowing an overtime game in Chicago to end a six-game winning streak.

The problems with Atlanta of late are on offense and rebounding. The Heat held Atlanta to season lows in points (75 -- 29.9 below its average) and field-goal percentage (35.2), plus held a 52-30 edge in rebounding (Miami’s largest rebounding margin of the season). Atlanta's offensive rebound rate in the past eight games is just 17.7 percent, barely half what the Hawks were averaging until that point. In two games against the Cavs, the Hawks grabbed only 12 offensive boards while Cleveland pulled down 87 defensive boards. Against Miami, Atlanta had just seven offensive boards and the Heat were without center Jermaine O’Neal.

This team is not good enough defensively to win low-scoring games – it is 1-6 this season when scoring fewer than 96 points. During the losing streak, Atlanta is averaging 92 points per game, has been outscored 188-154 in second-chance points, 50-42 in fastbreak points and 113-71 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Atlanta hasn’t won a close game since beating Dallas on Dec. 5.

Atlanta is a jump shooting team: 41 of its Atlanta's 71 field-goal attempts against Miami were jump shots. The Hawks made just 11 of those as they scored 91.1 points per 100 possessions, 21 percent below their season average entering the game. But during a 19-6 start, Atlanta was still a jump-shooting team – the difference being they were getting offensive rebounds and not turning the ball over.

And that’s the good news: Atlanta still isn’t turning the ball over much. Just nine against the Heat, 10 against the Knicks, 11 in the close loss to Cleveland. Rebounding can tend to come and go as its predicated largely on effort, and it’s around this time of year that NBA players can begin to hit the wall.

Another piece of good news is that the Hawks’ losing streak almost certainly will end Wednesday night against the awful New Jersey Nets. But what follows is a home game with Boston, trip to Orlando and then another game with the Celtics in Boston.

If the Hawks can’t give effort against the East powers like the Magic and the Celtics, then something’s wrong. But four games does not a trend make – yet.

  
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