By PAUL NEWBERRY , AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Dennis Schroder sounds miffed about getting benched. Dwight Howard insists it's no big deal. Mike Budenholzer says his team has got to learn play together.
One thing is certain: The Atlanta Hawks are in a bit of disarray heading toward the final month of the regular season.
Schroder was yanked early in the third quarter of Monday night's 119-111 loss to the Golden State Warriors after arguing with Howard about an errant pass.
While the two were angrily exchanging words, the Warriors got the ball to Stephen Curry for an open 3-pointer.
Budenholzer wound up sending Schroder to the bench with 8:41 to go in the third, even though he led the Hawks with 23 points. The 23-year-old German never returned, merely a spectator as Atlanta took its sixth loss in eight games to slip back further in the Eastern Conference standings.
"I don't understand Coach's decision," Schroder said. "Maybe I'm too competitive, I don't know. I'm just trying to be competitive, trying to win games. But I don't get that one."
Budenholzer was tight-lipped, calling it a "coaching decision."
"We need to learn to play together and stay together for 48 minutes," he said. "That's something that's very important to us."
Schroder has run into other problems in his first year as a Hawks starter. After the All-Star break, he was late reporting back to the team and served a one-game suspension . Then, the very next night, he was late for the team bus and came off the bench for a game at Orlando.
Now, it looks as if he is headed for a summit with Budenholzer and Howard.
"We've got to figure it out, me and coach," Schroder said. "I want to talk about it. Dwight's got to be in there, too. Get on the same page. Then we're going be all right."
Howard downplayed the incident and said he looks forward to smoothing things over with his teammate, but the whole affair raised more troubling questions about an eight-time All-Star center who joined Atlanta this season with a reputation for causing problems in the locker room.
"It happens during the course of the game," he said. "It just cost us a 3. It's something that we've got to make sure we nip it in the bud quick, and move on to the next play."
Howard said disagreements are bound to pop up during the course of the season.
"Listen, we're a team," he said. "It's OK if we have conversations. It's not always conflict when you have a conversation with your coach or a team meeting. That's what you're supposed to do. So, by him wanting to have a meeting and talk, it's great. It's great for our team. It's great for each other. We're all open to it."
Still, it wasn't a good sign for a team that has struggled all season to find some consistency .
The Hawks, who were the top seed in the East just two seasons ago, are now three games out of a home-court edge in the first round of the playoffs. If they don't turn things around soon, they could be facing a challenge from teams below them in the standings.
Indiana has closed within two games of Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago are three games back, and streaking Miami looks like one of the league's most dangerous teams after a dismal start.
Schroder's benching came after he got off to a magnificent start against the Warriors. He scored 19 points in the first quarter — his most ever in a period — and knocked down four shots beyond the 3-point arc. By the half, he had 23 points and seemed on his way to setting a career high.
He didn't get the chance.
Schroder conceded he should have waited until a timeout or dead ball to raise his concerns with Howard, instead of bickering in the middle of the court.
"They got a 3 right out of it," he said. "I've got to do better."
The other Atlanta players are eager to snuff out any signs of a lingering feud. They're going to need both Schroder and Howard to have any shot at turning things around this season.
"When you play basketball, especially in a game like this, emotions are high and everybody is quick to react," Thabo Sefolosha said. "But at the end of the day, we're a team and we've got to play as a team. I'm sure they're going to talk between the two of them and they're going to be fine."