Vivlamore reporting. Here is my story on the Hawks that will appear in Thursday’s print edition of the AJC.
Three straight exhibition losses are not a concern to Hawks coach Larry Drew. This preseason has been about learning to best utilize the many new players at his disposal.
Drew has used a different starting lineup in each of the four exhibition games. That has been by design. While the results of the games matter to the competitive nature of coach and players, Drew said his top objective was to see what his players could, and could not, do in a number of different situations.
The Hawks (1-3) have three exhibition games remaining, including Thursday’s home game against the Hornets. Now comes the time for Drew to move toward the lineup and bench rotation that will open the regular season next month.
“As we move closer toward the end of our exhibition we’ll probably start using more of the rotation that we are going to be using during the regular season,” Drew said following Wednesday’s light workout. “We still have some evaluating to do with these guys and we’ll continue to throw some different looks to continue the process of giving guys some good looks and analyzing to see where they are, will they be able to make our ball club.”
Jeff Teague said he and Josh Smith, two of the team’s five returning players, spoke recently about the need to get into a regular flow. The team took a step in that direction when Devin Harris make his exhibition debut Tuesday. The guard, who will share backcourt duties with Teague, has been limited in training camp with a sore knee.
Al Horford, another of the returners, agreed it’s time for a regular lineup and bench rotation to take shape.
“I think we are at the point now where we really need to start mixing in the guys who are going to play together,” Horford said. “We need to start playing in games together not just in practice. I think we are going to start seeing that, hopefully, in the next few games.
“I think it’s going to be interesting. I think a lot of the guys are still trying to figure out what their roles are and where they fit in. We just need to keep playing hard. Everyone is going to get their opportunity. … It’s going to come down to who can pick up our defensive coverages the most. That’s what we really need. We know we can score the ball. We just need to come together as a team defensively.”
Drew has stressed defense all training camp even with much of the outside attention focused on the team’s new up-tempo offense. Defense has been at issue during the preseason. In each of their three losses, the Hawks have surrendered more than 100 points. The Spurs (51.9 percent), the Grizzlies (47.7) and the Pacers (44.6) all shot above the Hawks’ goal of holding the opposition between 41-42 percent from the field. Some of that is due to the limited play of the regulars during this evaluation process. Smith (knee) and Horford (shoulder) were inactive against the Pacers. Drew said the move was precautionary and both are expected to play against the Hornets.
“It all starts with Josh and myself,” Horford said of the team’s defense this season. “We have to be held more accountable defensively and we have to set the tone. That is something we are going to try to focus on these next few games.”
While the offense might be slightly ahead of the defense at this point in training camp, according to Drew and players, the Hawks have been outshot is all four exhibitions. They have shot 40.3 percent (140 for 347). However, the three losses have come by a combined 14 points.
There remains work to be done.
“I think these last three (games) I really want to focus on us,” Drew said. “Focus on what we have to do on the defensive end. Focus on what we have to do on the offensive end. If we have the focus in those areas and go out and do the things we’ve done throughout training camp, we should be in good shape.”
- Chris Vivlamore
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