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Morgan Howen

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Atlanta Hawks the definition of mediocrity in 2023

The Atlanta Hawks season has been a Sisyphean quest to remain above .500. They came, they saw, and they Even Stevened for most of the season. If you ever wondered what a wedgie between the rim and the hoop personified this season was, it would be the 41-39 Atlanta Hawks.

Since falling to 24-24 on Jan. 23, the Hawks have alternated wins and losses at an interval never seen before. They’d been hovering around .500 for 33 consecutive games — having bested the NBA record of 24 — and 72 consecutive days until Wednesday night when they missed the 40-40 boat by defeating the Washington Wizards.

This sort of win-loss ratio purgatory was unheard of in NBA history before Atlanta crushed it. On March 21, Atlanta eclipsed the 2014-15 Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, and Jrue Holiday-led New Orleans Pelicans record within one game of .500 and then extended it by eight more games. You could barely thread a needle between their scoring differential either. Before breaking the streak, Atlanta had scored 9,322 total points and allowed 9,315 points. Three days earlier, the Hawks were 39-39 with a one-point scoring differential (9,209 points scored to 9,210 points allowed).

That perfect harmony belied the tempestuous storm that’s brewed around them all season. For every dark cloud, a sunny one followed. If there was ever a team that reflected the circadian battle to thrive in modern society, it’s these Hawks. The 2023 Hawks are the new American Dream in 2023. Stuck in place, but still persevering, then getting in their own way and dodging debris the universe tosses in their path.

Every adjustment they’ve made got them right back to square one. Nate McMillan was fired in January and Quin Snyder was hired a few weeks later. The gust of wind that blew Snyder in to fill in for McMillan’s shoes wasn’t enough to knock the Hawks off their tightrope.

Even their strengths and weaknesses seesaw one another. Through 80 games, the Hawks allow the third-most points per game and score the third-most. I can’t imagine the hopelessness it instilled in Hawks loyalists continuously staring at a team progressing and regressing on the escalator of mediocrity. The best way to describe Atlanta’s 2022-23 conundrum would be falling down an escalator. For every step they get closer to the bottom, a new one manifests.

Even the most optimistic prognostications on the Hawks don’t have them making a run in the postseason. They’ve regressed since 2021 and with nothing to cling to, the Hawks .500 club formed a cult following. Eventually, the portion of the fanbase who was aware of the record became as neurotic about clinging to .500 as the other half who obsessed over their playoff seeding. I’d wager as many Hawks loyalists are disappointed their streak ended like this as there are ones ecstatic that their first real winning streak in months has them Elmer’s glued in as an eighth seed in the play-in…for now. In the end, the Hawks have found a way to disappoint both factions.

On the few occasions where Atlanta would fall off the straight and narrow, a losing streak would blow them right on track. Since a five-game win streak ended on Jan. 21, the Hawks haven’t won or lost more than two in a row until Wednesday gave them their third consecutive win.

Trae Young has been yin and yanging between coach-killer and franchise savior for years, so this is nothing new. However, he’s at risk of losing his Teflon Don status. Dejounte Murray arrived as the mirror version of Young and has had an equalizing effect. Meanwhile, at the trade deadline, General Manager Landry Fields stood pat and the results remained remarkably consistent.

It’s been an OCD paradise, but that doesn’t mean it has to end out of equilibrium. The 41-39 Hawks close out their regular season with two of the Eastern Conference playoff’s top three seeds in Philly and Boston.

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