ATLANTA (AP) — The streak is over.
The way opposing teams approach the Atlanta Hawks isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
For the first time in more than a month, the Hawks practiced Tuesday looking to bounce back from a loss. Defense was the main focus, after New Orleans romped to a 115-110 victory the previous night to snap Atlanta’s 19-game winning streak.
“I was bummed about the loss,” center Al Horford said, having finished up an hour-long workout on the Philips Arena practice court. “I’m not going to lie.”
The Hawks equaled the fifth-longest single-season winning streak in NBA history, a run that began two days after Christmas and included a 17-0 mark in January. Along the way, Atlanta built a double-digit lead in every victory but one, knocked off the other five Eastern Conference teams with winning records, swept the season series with Western powerhouse Portland, and went 9-0 on the road.
The streak carried the Hawks (40-9) to the best record in the NBA, though they again dropped percentage points behind Golden State with the loss to the Pelicans.
There was a raucous celebration in the Big Easy after the horn sounded.
“It was fun to see them celebrating like they won the championship. I couldn’t believe it,” Hawks guard Jeff Teague said with a smile. “Now we know we’ve got a target on our backs. We’ve got to come out and play hard every night.”
That’s taken some getting used to.
“A lot of our guys probably haven’t been in this position before,” Horford said. “People are coming after us. We’re very aware that everyone is bringing their ‘A’ game. It’s an adjustment. But that’s the good thing about the NBA. It’s a long season. You’ve got time to build good habits and know how to handle different situations.”
The streak was special, but it really wasn’t an anomaly. The Hawks have won 33 of their last 36 games after a 7-6 start, building a comfortable lead in the East and landing three players (Horford, Teague and Paul Millsap) in the All-Star Game.
Atlanta hosts the Washington Wizards (31-18) on Wednesday night — a team it has already beaten twice this season, including a 31-point blowout on the MLK holiday that might’ve been the most impressive performance during the streak.
Then comes a much-anticipated home game Friday night against Golden State, which looks a lot bigger than anyone could’ve envisioned at the start of the season.
“Our guys understand that it’s time to get back up and play,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Injuries forced coach Budenholzer to adjust his playing rotation toward the end of the streak, most notably to deal with the loss of valuable backup forward Thabo Sefolosha. He is expected to be out at least another six weeks with a strained right calf, bumping Kent Bazemore to the wing while possibly allowing little-used guard John Jenkins to get more playing time.
The Hawks are optimistic that another guard, Shelvin Mack, is close to returning from strained left calf. After missing the last eight games, he was upgraded to questionable for the Wizards and will likely be ready to return by the weekend. Mack can play both backcourt positions, freeing up Bazemore to work exclusively at small forward while Sefolosha is out.
Also, Budenholzer has experimented with a grouping that includes his two primary point guards, putting Teague and second-year player Dennis Schroder together for brief spurts to give opponents another look.
“It’s kind of a work in progress,” Budenholzer said.
During the streak, the city of Atlanta finally seemed to warm to a team that has long ranked near the bottom of the league in attendance. The Hawks have sold out 10 of their last 13 home games — more sellouts than they had the last two years combined. Also, Fox SportsSouth reports that local TV ratings are up a staggering 73 percent over last season, including the largest audience ever for a Hawks regular-season game on Monday night.
“It was fun winning and seeing how everybody embraced us, how the crowds and the fans reacted to the whole streak thing,” Teague said. “It was a good time.”
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