ATLANTA - The Atlanta Hawks have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. They might also have the worst travel luck in the NBA after a third straight weekend of flight delays.
"It's just weird. We've never been through a stretch like that," team spokesman Arthur Triche said after the Hawks arrived in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon following Saturday night's 84-83 loss in Memphis.
The team's worst weekend of travel problems began Friday night when the Hawks tried to beat the bad weather by flying out of Atlanta following their 106-96 loss to the Miami Heat.
Instead, freezing rain and sleet already was causing problems, and players and staff spent seven hours sitting on the team's chartered jet, watching through the night as repeated de-icing procedures didn't get the plane off the ground.
Hawks guard Tony Delk said he listened to music on the plane until the batteries ran down on his personal music system. He said he then played games on his telephone until that battery gave out.
Delk, an eight-year veteran, said there were many times when he wondered if the game was worth the long wait.
"You have to be mentally tough," Delk said. "I'm not going to say anybody has been through this. This was my first time since I've been playing. It's our job, so you have to treat it as a professional and go out there and play."
Finally, about 6 a.m. Saturday, the team gave up on its flight and players tried to nap at a downtown Atlanta hotel for a few hours, still unsure if they would be playing Saturday night in Memphis.
At mid-afternoon Saturday, the Hawks headed back to the airport, having lined up a different charter for the one-hour flight. After waiting through another tedious de-icing, the Hawks finally took off.
The charter landed in Memphis about an hour before the scheduled start, and the team was given a police escort to the arena. The NBA delayed tipoff an hour, to 9 p.m. EST, to give the Hawks more practice time.
In what Hawks coach Mike Woodson called "an unbelievable effort," the Hawks lost by one point in a game that ended about 11:30 p.m.
The travel complications, however, were not over. The team couldn't find lodging in Memphis and had to settle for a hotel about 30 minutes out of town. Then the players found the hotel dining room was closed, so the search for a late dinner ended at a nearby pancake restaurant.
The Hawks' return flight to a foggy Atlanta landed about 12:30 p.m., according to Triche, who said players were given a day off before a practice Monday morning for a home game that night against Orlando.
It marked the third straight week Atlanta has encountered travel problems. The Hawks were stuck en route to Boston for a Jan. 14 game with the Celtics because of fog, and in Chicago after a Jan. 21 game when the flight crew did not have enough members.
"We've bonded probably more than any other team in the league could have for this year," Triche said. "Thankfully, no one has gotten on anyone's nerves."