The difference between the Hawks in the first and fourth quarters is a study of a team at its very worst and its very best. No team in the NBA finishes better than the Hawks, who owned the league's best fourth-quarter winning percentage --- 63 --- through the start of this week.
But the Hawks start as slow as almost any team, winning only 44 percent of its first quarters to rank 18th in the league.
It's one reason the Hawks struggle to consistently play a complete game. They followed a three-game win-streak last week with their current three-game losing streak, illustrating how it's possible for a team to look fantastic one half and dreadful the next.
"We're just trying to find some consistency," said Hawks coach Mike Woodson, whose team has lost eight of its past 12 heading into tonight's game at Philips Arena against New Jersey, which has beaten them three times this season. "If your focus and concentration is that strong coming down the stretch, I don't know why in the hell it can be that way when you start the game.
"And that's where we're losing games."
Most of the time, at least.
There are those games when the Hawks start well and then fade late, like they did in Wednesday's 112-104 loss to the New York Knicks.
But the problem remains. No matter how hard they seem to try, the Hawks (26-19) can't put four complete quarters together when they need to.
"We know we have to start coming out and getting off to better starts," said Hawks captain Joe Johnson, who has been in a shooting slump all month. "And I have to take a lot of the responsibility for that. But as a whole, we're not doing the things that we were doing earlier in the season.
"I think we've got to play Basketball the right way and make the right plays. That's what we haven't been doing. Earlier in the season we were out there freelancing and playing well, and we didn't care who scored or who was doing what. Now all of a sudden everybody thinks they can do it alone. And we're just not going to win like that."
The Hawks aren't going to win shooting free throws the way they have either. They rank 29th in the league in free-throw shooting (.737), just ahead of Southeast Division-leading rival Orlando (.723).
They missed 15 free throws in the loss to the Knicks, highlighted by Josh Smith's agonizing 2-for-10 showing.
"We've just had mental lapses," Woodson said. "Somehow, I have to get us back to playing at a high level for 48 minutes, because we're not doing that."
How that will happen, Woodson said, remains to be seen. When asked what he would do to shake things up, Woodson suggested that anything was possible.
"You can change the starting lineup," he said. "Maybe we don't meet as long or make sure they're out on the floor earlier than they usually are warming up. But it still comes down at the end to these guys having to mentally put themselves in position to be ready to play.
"Yeah, I can change the lineup or whatever, but who says that changing the lineup is going to make that big of a difference?"