The Atlanta Hawks have a second opportunity to clinch a playoff spot, and coach Larry Drew hopes his team is more prepared this time around.
The Hawks (39-32) had a chance to wrap up their sixth consecutive playoff berth Monday, but they instead fell behind by as many as 28 points in a 100-94 road loss to an Indiana team that played without four key contributors.
Josh Smith scored a game-high 20 points as Atlanta lost for the second time in three games.
"It was a game that we should have, I thought, should have been a little more focused and played a little bit more composed," Drew said. "We allowed the pressure to speed us up, and we allowed some (foul) calls to just completely take us out of what our focus should have been."
The Hawks are tied with Chicago for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, 2 1/2 games behind Brooklyn for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The bench made the game interesting in the fourth quarter Monday, but Drew was surprised his squad played so poorly in a contest that meant so much.
"The disappointing thing was that we just lost our composure," Drew said. "We didn't handle it the right way. It just took us out of our game."
The Hawks, in the midst of a four-game trip that concludes Friday against Boston, can clinch a playoff spot with a fifth straight road victory over the Raptors, who are hoping Gay's sore back will be healed enough for him to play.
Gay suffered the injury in Friday's 99-94 home loss to New York, then sat out Saturday's 110-84 defeat to the Knicks. He practice Monday and Tuesday and said he is planning to play against the Hawks.
With the playoffs out of reach, coach Dwane Casey is already beginning to prepare for next season.
"What I would like to have is for (Gay) to be healthy and where we can get a rhythm and a style of play established with he and DeMar (DeRozan) and he and Kyle (Lowry) and that group," Casey said. "That would be the only thing I would like to have is some continuity going into the end of the year. That way we kind of know what we have coming into next year."
It's been a disappointing season as Toronto (26-44) has played half its games without the injured Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors, who have lost four straight and 11 of 14, turned the ball over 18 times Saturday.
"The turnovers were probably the No. 1 aspect of the game that hurt us. That was the most disappointing thing, the type of turnovers that we had," Casey said. "(But) I thought the fight was there."
On the same day Toronto officially completed the trade to acquire Gay from Memphis, the Raptors had nine players in uniform and fell 93-92 at Atlanta on Jan. 30. Al Horford's dunk with 22 seconds remaining helped the Hawks prevail in the only meeting between the teams this season.
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- Atlanta Hawks
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- Rudy Gay
- Larry Drew