But that has changed dramatically since Wilkens, a 20-year NBA coach, moved to Atlanta this fall.
"I'm invigorated," said Wilkens, who has 883 victories, 55 short of Red Auerbach's NBA record. "Everyone said, 'The Hawks couldn't do this or that.' That was the real challenge for me, proving them wrong."
Saturday night at the Baltimore Arena, Wilkens' revitalized Hawks (14-4) set a franchise record, winning their 13th straight by beating the Washington Bullets, 116-108, before a sellout crowd of 12,756.
Their defense was not as suffocating as usual. The Hawks had allowed only 97 points per game in their first 17 games. But down the stretch, when the Bullets threatened to wipe out a 91-74 lead, Atlanta turned up its defensive intensity.
Two free throws by Michael Adams, who recorded season highs for points (28) and rebounds (11), trimmed the deficit to 108-104 with 2:50 remaining.
But the Bullets (6-13) did not score again until rookie Calbert Cheaney made a tip-in with 30 seconds left. By that time, the Hawks had expanded their lead to 114-104, and the Bullets could not escape a seventh straight loss.
"The biggest thing is that he [Wilkens] has everyone believing in one another," said Stacey Augmon, the 6-foot-8 guard who scored a season-high 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds. "Our offense is improved, but it's definitely our defense that's the difference this year."
NOTES: The Bullets will try to end their losing streak on the road, visiting the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night. . . . C/F Pervis Ellison, considered the team's most valuable player, is playing himself back into shape after missing the first 15 games while recuperating from surgery on both knees. Ellison was held to six points and four rebounds before fouling out in 22 minutes as a reserve Saturday night.