When does pursuit of a great achievement become a burden? Just ask Lenny Wilkens.
Three games after tying Red Auerbach’s record for career NBA coaching victories, the Atlanta Hawks coach is still looking for elusive win No. 939 that will push him past the venerable Celtics coach.
“It’s just frustrating, because I’m trying to get the guys to just play and forget the record,” Wilkens said Wednesday night after the Hawks fell to the New York Knicks 89-80. “But it will never be an albatross. It’s just too prestigious a record.”
Prestigious or not, Wilkens’ quest is proving a difficult distraction for a team with new personnel that’s trying to find its identity.
“After the game tonight, I just told them, ‘We’re just going to have to go out and play and get it over with as quickly as possible so we can get back to normal,”’ Wilkens said after absorbing career loss No. 793.
Tonight comes Wilkens’ best chance to get back to normal - the Hawks play the Washington Bullets (7-20) at The Omni. And if that fails, there’s another home game with the up-and-down New Jersey Nets on Saturday.
Before the season began, the 13th victory Wilkens needs to own the record alone was expected to come sometime in early December, but last season’s Central Division champs lost seven of their first nine games, and the pursuit has dragged on.
“When I was with Cleveland, Lenny was stuck on 699 for what seemed like 100 games, so we have been stuck before,” said former Cavaliers guard Craig Ehlo, now with the Hawks. “But we have to keep playing our game, because we know that he will get it.
“It is frustrating, though, because it follows us everywhere. We go home and see it on ESPN, so it is always in the back of our minds.”
With the departures of Dominique Wilkins, Danny Manning and Kevin Willis, the Hawks are struggling to replace the bulk of their offense.
Wilkins was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Manning, who gave the Hawks 16 points a game, then signed with hoenix in the offseason. Willis, the team’s leading rebounder with a 19-point average, was traded to Miami for Grant Long and Steve Smith on Nov. 7.
Guards Stacey Augmon and Mookie Blaylock are trying to take up the scoring slack, but the Hawks, who averaged 101 points a game last season, have reached triple digits just once in the last seven games.