The magical turnaround for the Hawks didn't come overnight, or in the form of a former MVP (Kevin Garnett) and an All-Star (Ray Allen) or two, like it did for Boston.The Hawks' revival has been a bit more organic, causing the Hawks to readjust their goals on the fly now that they've finally joined the NBA's upper echelon.
"This is definitely a change for us," said Hawks forward Josh Smith, who five years into his NBA career ranks as the longest tenured Hawk. "Really, it's a blessing to be in this position, considering where we've come from. I knew it was going to come all along, but I didn't know when.
"It feels good to be on the winning side and being able to fight for home court advantage during the playoffs and know that every night we step out there we're treating every game like a playoff game, like a must win."
The Hawks have accomplished that goal lately, winning three of their last four games after a 2-6 start this month to re-establish themselves as a legitimate contender for one of those coveted home-court slots in the first round of the playoffs.
But they can't afford any more of the mini-tailspins like the one they experienced to start the month, when they lost five of their first six games.
"We're obviously trying to do better than we did the (in the first half)," said Hawks point guard Mike Bibby, whose 50-wins-before-20-losses benchmark from a couple months ago will be basically impossible to attain now. "The main thing now is you're just trying not to lose two games in a row. That's another big thing. You lose one, you have to get the next one no matter what."
That means Sunday's loss to Phoenix can't be accompanied by another loss tonight in Miami.
SUNS 104, HAWKS 99: If you want to know the recipe for a sure Hawks loss, just toss in a 7-for-33 shooting effort from Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby with a nearly six-minute scoring drought in the fourth quarter of a tight game.
The Phoenix Suns made a tasty stew out of that mix Sunday night at Philips Arena, capitalizing where the Hawks could not to snap the Hawks' win-streak at three games.
Johnson and Bibby, the Hawks' leading scorers, struggled through their combined worst shooting game of the season.
Johnson was 5-for-20 from the floor, Bibby 2-for-13. And they were the guys with the ball in their hands during the majority of that nearly six-minute power outage that sealed the Hawks' fate.
"They were just missing shots," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "It happens. There are plenty of nights where they make those same shots. And if tonight was like any other night, we'd be having a different conversation right now."
Johnson did finish with 13 assists but he also had five turnovers and he didn't exactly play lock-down defense on the other end of the floor. Bibby had six assists and just one turnover, but his five points was 11 below his season average.
"It's not the end of the world," Bibby said. "It happens. But we can't dwell on it. We have to move on and be ready for Miami."