Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and the rest of this remarkable Atlanta Hawks roster no longer belong in the same class as the legends of this franchise's history after taking down the Oklahoma City Thunder with a decisive 103-93 victory Friday night.
Bob Pettit may have led the St. Louis Hawks to an NBA championship in 1957-58, dethroning Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics for the one and only title in this organization's annals. Dominique Wilkins put on a show whenever he stepped onto the court.
But neither player could ever steer the Hawks to 15 wins in a row.
That took the collective effort of coach Mike Budenholzer and everyone on this roster, and it finally happened for a team that has been around since the 1949-50 season. Fifteen wins in a row, capped off by a second-half shutdown of the surging Thunder to make it 10 straight over foes from the Western Conference.
And making things even more impressive, the Hawks have managed to put together a double-digit lead in each of the 15 outings that date back to a Dec. 27 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. As opposed to some of their other recent contests, when they've surged ahead by at least 10 in either the first or second quarter, it took them until the final period to pull ahead of OKC.
But pull ahead they did, and the roll continues, one assisted bucket and tough defensive stop at a time. Now, the question becomes one geared more toward the future—when will it ever end?
Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant talked about how much this recent streak has given the Hawks momentum and fan support, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
All of a sudden, the Hawks' schedule has become remarkably easy. In the last 10 games, Atlanta, which Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher called "a petri dish to determine if the championship hybrid developed by the San Antonio Spurs can grow somewhere other than the Alamo City," proved itself superior to plenty of contending teams in both halves of the NBA.
Now, it's faced with the murderer's row—read sarcastically—of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans for the next five.
Normally, Rip City would loom on that schedule. But with the Blazers playing without LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland—and Chris Kaman and Nicolas Batum injured as well—how is that depleted frontcourt going to stop the brutal combination of Millsap and Horford?
It won't, especially if the Hawks continue performing like they did Friday against the Thunder—and as they have throughout the rest of this stretch of perfect play.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Atlanta posted a 112.5 offensive rating and a 99.4 defensive rating during the 14 games prior to the victorious Friday night affair. The former number would come in tied with the Golden State Warriors at No. 4 in the Association on the season, while the latter would supplant the Dubs as the league's best point-preventing mark.
And that level of performance sure didn't look like a fluke against OKC, with the Hawks moving the ball viciously and displaying a single-minded intent of finding the best look, then settling in to contest everything possible on the other end.
Atlanta's defensive excellence hasn't received as much credit as it should thus far, but the strategy of packing the paint and using long-armed wing defenders to shut off the kick-out lanes has been nearly flawless at times. After all, it isn't easy to hold Kevin Durant to an 8-of-22 performance from the field while keeping Oklahoma City as a whole below the 100-point barrier.
Barring a serious and unforeseen decline, the Hawks should roll through their next five games against overmatched competition, pushing the streak to 20 games. Then come the Wizards in a Feb. 4 game at Philips Arena, and that won't be an easy outing.
But if the basketball gods are just, we'll get the matchup we've all been waiting for.
Golden State, which could very well be on a double-digit streak of its own, comes to Atlanta on Feb. 6. And if the Hawks can extend the streak to 22 that night, there's no telling when they'll ever lose again.
Around the Association
Cavaliers Destroy the Hornets' Hive
NEWSFLASH: LeBron James is really, really, really good at basketball and makes any team he plays on leaps and bounds better.
That bit of Captain Obvious-caliber wisdom is as true today as it's ever been. The Cavs have ripped off five wins in a row—their latest, a 129-90 annihilation of the visiting Charlotte Hornets—since stumbling to defeat in Phoenix during James' return from a two-week respite.
James had some positive words about his team's play, per The Chronicle-Telegram's Rick Noland:
Ohio's favorite son needed just 27 minutes to rack up 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists, four steals and a block at the expense of a Hornets squad that had won eight of its previous nine outings. Had the Cavs not crushed Charlotte's hopes early, beginning with a 14-0 run in the first quarter, LeBron may well have piled up an even more impressive line.
All told, James has looked much more like his old self after taking time off to rest his knee. He came into Friday's action averaging 30.6 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 2015.
And now that LeBron has as close to a complete supporting cast as he may get this season—with Anderson Varejao sidelined by a torn Achilles tendon, Iman Shumpert joining J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov among Cleveland's newcomers and Ray Allen still weighing his options—the Cavs may be primed to rip off many more wins like this one, which doubled as the franchise's largest in over two decades.
Knicks Refuse to Be Last
THE NEW YORK KNICKS AREN'T THE WORST TEAM IN THE NBA!!!
For now, anyway. Their 113-106 win over the Orlando Magic on Friday, combined with the Timberwolves' 92-84 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, moved the Knicks ahead of Minnesota in the NBA's overall standings…by mere percentage points.
Still, that's something for a Big Apple bunch that had dropped a franchise-record 16 games in a row before eking out victories over New Orleans and Philadelphia.
Coincidentally (or not), New York's fortunes have turned since Carmelo Anthony returned to the lineup. Anthony, who was voted into the All-Star Game as a starter for the seventh season running, has backed up that long-running honor by averaging 25.3 points over his last four games, including the 25 for which he torched Orlando's defense Friday night.
Bulls Getting Their Effort On
A night after holding the San Antonio Spurs to a season-low 81 points in Chicago, the Bulls cooled the Dallas Mavericks' league-leading offense in a 102-98 win. It was just the 10th time all season that Dallas failed to hit triple digits on the scoreboard.
Rose, for his part, once against walked the walk after talking the talk. He scored 13 of his 20 points in the first quarter before ceding the reins of Chicago's offense to his teammates, four of whom scored in double figures.
With Joakim Noah back in the lineup, Tony Snell finding his way in place of Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler rediscovering his early-season form, the Bulls appear primed for another strong run—just in time to head off the red-hot Cavs at the pass.
Harden once again played the part of all-around savior for the Houston Rockets on Friday, this time during a 113-111 win over the Suns in Phoenix. With Dwight Howard, the team's other tentpole, sidelined by a sprained ankle suffered in the first quarter, Harden filled the void...and then some.
The likely All-Star piled up 33 points, with the help of 17 trips to the stripe, to go along with 10 assists, six rebounds, three steals and a block in 40 minutes of work—all team-highs for the evening.
And when the Rockets needed someone to hit a game-winning shot, Harden (naturally) did that, too. The Arizona State product juked Suns forward P.J. Tucker out of his shoes before nailing a stepback jumper over Isaiah Thomas' outstretched arm as time expired to seal Houston's 30th victory of the season.
Kyle Korver Making a Push for Slam Dunk Contest
The Hawks' premier sniper hasn't dunked in years. It's been even longer since he's had a season with multiple slams.
But this makes two in the last week, and it's now time to wonder if his role in Atlanta has changed for good.
His coach, Mike Budenholzer, seems to be okay with the sharpshooter occasionally stuffing the basketball, although it probably won't become a regular occurrence, via CBSSports.com's Zach Harper:
Third Quarter's a Charm for Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson was on his way to an unremarkable evening. He scored 13 points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first half as the Golden State Warriors clung to a five-point lead over the Sacramento Kings.
Then...well, the dude went straight-up Super Saiyan on Sacramento. It started with a 12-foot jumper, continued with a 26-foot three-pointer and ended with a pair of free throws to close the third quarter. In between, Thompson didn't miss a single shot—13 from the field, nine from beyond the arc and two from the stripe—on the way to setting new NBA records for points (37) and three-pointers (nine) in a quarter.
And lest you think Thompson's experience wasn't one of the out-of-body variety, he promptly missed his first shot of the final frame.
All told, Thompson's 52 points set a new career high for the Splash Brother and tied the single-game high-water mark for the 2014-15 season that Minnesota's Mo Williams established last week.
Cavaliers, Knicks, Bulls, Rockets and Warriors sections written by Josh Martin.