No cooling off hot Atlanta

Since the calendar turned to December, the Atlanta Hawks have emerged as the NBA's hottest team. After a 7-6 start, the Hawks have won 13 of their past 14 games, capped by Monday night's win over the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The victory vaulted Atlanta into second place in the Eastern Conference, just a game behind the East-leading Toronto Raptors.

In the context of everything in the previous paragraph, this fact beggars belief: Atlanta's starting five has been outscored in the month of December. Per NBA.com/Stats, the Hawks' typical starters (Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford) are in fact a minus-4 in the 146 minutes they've played together this month, when Atlanta has outscored its opponents by a mere 132 points.

To explain this seeming contradiction, we must turn to the Hawks' bench. Because head coach Mike Budenholzer came from the San Antonio Spurs, where he was an assistant to Gregg Popovich, Atlanta is frequently compared to San Antonio -- but usually in the context of the team's emphasis on ball movement and shooting. It's another trait shared with the Spurs, depth, that is helping the Hawks' rise in the East.