What do the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and L.A. Clippers have in common?
They are all contenders and considered to arguably be a list of the best teams in the NBA. They also are the five teams that the Atlanta Hawks just beat, in a row.
Complain all you want about how the Eastern Conference is weak and the Atlanta Hawks are nothing but the mediocre team they have shown themselves as in the recent past. They barely make the playoffs – hovering around .500 – then get knocked out.
But, at this point, they are the No. 2 seed in the East with a 21-7 record. And they just beat five of the best teams in the league in consecutive games with a no-name roster and a no-name coach.
“We had a nice little run where we won a bunch of games in a row and everyone said let’s see who they are when they start playing some tougher teams,” Hawks shooter Kyle Korver told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the Hawks' 107-104 win over the L.A. Clippers.
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“We’ve had a tough stretch here. I think we’ve played well. We’ve won some games on the road and obviously tonight was a big win here. But the season is really early and we still have a lot to get better at. We’ve shown when we are on our game we can be really good. But it doesn’t take a lot to get us off. We have to be focused and we have to play with energy and pace. We just keep on trying to get better but, with that being said, we feel good about our team.”
How are they doing it?
The Hawks' leader is Jeff Teague, but they are also probably the most balanced team in the league with all five starters averaging in double figures scoring and Korver shooting 53.9 percent from beyond the arc while making an average of three per game.
Teague even missed three of the team's past five wins – against Cleveland, Houston and Dallas – with a hamstring injury and the team was unfazed without their ball distributor and leader.
“We’ve got much, much work to do,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AJC. “We are typical coaches. We want to get better. We are going to stay on them. We are going to keep pushing them. I think it’s good to play some of these teams. Their talent is obvious and they test you in a lot of ways. We just need to keep focus on getting better each day. That is really all we think about.”
Who is doing it?
The Hawks starters are Teague, Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll while the key bench players are Dennis Schroder, Mike Scott, Pero Antic and Thabo Sefolosha.
Yep, those guys are what compromises one of the NBA's best teams because they play well together, pass the ball to find the open man, take high-percentage shots and are improving on defense.
“We need to get a lot better defensively but in these last few weeks we have shown improvement on the defensive end of the court,” Budenholzer said. “It’s probably the thing we point to the most. I think the fact that we have different guys step up each night and make big plays and make big plays throughout the game. Our bench has been good the last couple of weeks. We’ve got much, much work to be done. We’ve got a long ways to go.”