All the hallmarks of postseason fades past are already in place for the Hawks as they embark on their final 18 games of the season with a 26-38 record, just good enough to be on the outside looking in on the playoff chase.The inconsistency is there. The Hawks have just one decent winning streak all season -- five straight in December. They have won back-to-back games just four times since.
The road woes are there. The Hawks are 7-25 (.280) on the road this season. Nine of their remaining 18 games are away from Philips Arena.
There is still no big man. Rookie Al Horford is playing out of position at center. The half-court game is crucial this time of year. The Hawks struggle to score in the paint -- and struggle to stop anyone in the paint.
The defense is still suspect. The Hawks have given up 100 or more points in nine of their 14 games since the All-Star break. They've lost eight games since the break, including Wednesday's home loss to Houston.
There is little playoff experience to be found. After Joe Johnson (15 games) and the recently-obtained Mike Bibby (51), the Hawks have a combined zero games of playoff experience. They are not used to playing meaningful games this late in the season, which showed in the loss to the Rockets, when Zaza Pachulia scored the Hawks' only points off the bench.
"People are always willing to point out the negatives," Hawks forward Josh Smith said. "I guess that's become the norm around here after all these years of struggling to make the playoffs. But that's not how I'm wired, man. I don't dwell on the negative stuff. My mindset is that we're going to find a way to turn this thing around and claw our way into the playoffs and get it done."
The power of positive thinking is fine. But believing it and doing it -- two totally different things.
ROCKETS 83, HAWKS 75: Number 20 for the Houston Rockets was deadly No. 2 for the Hawks, who have seen their losing streak stretch to a daily double after their 83-75 loss to the Rockets Wednesday night at Philips Arena.
It was a record-setting win for the Rockets, who equaled the second-longest winning streak in NBA history with the win.
It was an excruciating experience, another one, for the Hawks. They led 14-4 early but allowed the Rockets to catch them by the end of the first quarter and never controlled the game again.
"We had our chances and we just couldn't make shots tonight," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "I thought our defense was terrific but we just couldn't make shots."
Joe Johnson was magnificent, matching Tracy McGrady point (28) for point (28). And Josh Smith grabbed a career-high 23 rebounds, trying to do whatever he could to assist Johnson's heroic effort.
But the Hawks' bench managed just four points to the Rockets' 23 from their reserves. And that production gap from the bench was easily the difference in the contest for a Hawks' team desperately seeking contributions from a surprise source.
Without it, at least every once in a while, the Hawks' chances of making the playoffs will continue to fade.
"For once, our defense was there," Johnson said. "We kept them under 90 points, which was a victory in itself. But we didn't make our plays down the stretch. We just didn't do it."
The Hawks were down 71-70 in the waning moments with a chance to snatch the game but couldn't convert on the offensive end as McGrady made the clutch plays at the end to win the game. The Rockets outscored Atlanta 12-5 in the game's final five minutes to finish things off.