The past week has acted as a perfect snapshot of the Atlanta Hawks’ season, and even their greater franchise history as a whole. On Sunday night, they beat the Pacers in Indianapolis, in a game that they wouldn’t have been expected to win. On Tuesday night, they lost at home to the Detroit Pistons, a team they should have comfortably beaten. And on Wednesday night, they beat the Celtics at Philips Arena, from a position they shouldn’t have been able to win from. To summarize, the Hawks never make things easy for themselves, and rarely do what you expect. That’s exactly why, even though, no one will give them much of a chance, the playoffs should still be an exciting prospect for Hawks fans.
Just to be clear, the Hawks still haven’t clinched their playoff spot just yet. The magic number for them to seal their fate is two more wins. In reality, the spot could be sealed in all but name on Friday though. If the Hawks were to beat the Nets, and the Knicks were to lose to the Raptors, the race would be all but over due to the Hawks holding the tiebreaker between the teams, thanks to a superior in conference record. In that case, all that would be left for the Hawks to find out would be, who their first round opponent is.
Friday could be an important day in that regard too. With the Hawks guaranteed to finish no higher than eighth, they are going to be matched up with the one seed in the first round. The Indiana Pacers currently hold a half game lead over the defending champions, the Miami Heat. The race for home court advantage throughout the duration of the playoffs will go a long way towards being decided tomorrow night, when the two teams face off in Miami. The Pacers have struggled significantly of late, but should improve after their starters were given a much needed rest in the team’s win in Milwaukee last night. The Heat haven’t been at their best either as they have been without Dwyane Wade, with their focus being on making sure he’s healthy for the playoffs.
Whichever team the Hawks end up playing, they will be massive underdogs. At the same time, based on their performances against both teams this season, they should have nothing to fear. In their games against the top two ranked teams in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta has more than held their own. Having played the Pacers in the playoffs last year, and with Miami being a divisional rival, the Hawks are very familiar with the various matchups and challenges both teams can pose.
On the surface, the Pacers look like the better of the two match-up’s for Atlanta. The teams split their season series at 2-2, and there’s no doubt that the Hawks would carry the momentum into a playoff series. The Hawks blew out the Pacers in Indiana on Sunday in spectacular fashion. The Hawks came out of the blocks playing stifling defense, and Indiana’s stuttering offense collapsed. Having held them to twelve first quarter points earlier in the season, Atlanta stopped them at eleven this time. In the first half they only allowed Indiana to score 23 points in total, which was a new franchise low.
On the opposite end of the floor, the Hawks provide some real match-up nightmares for the Pacers too. George Hill seems unable to cope with Jeff Teague’s speed, and if Teague is aggressive, he’ll get to the rim. Up front the Hawks can cause Indiana plenty of problems also. Atlanta are a poor rebounding team, so generally struggle against seven footer’s, but due to Roy Hibbert’s mediocre rebounding they don’t get punished. Instead, it’s Hibbert that’s the liability for Indiana. With Pero Antic‘s ability to step back and hit jump shots, Hibbert is unable to guard him. So much so, that coach Frank Vogel benched him for the second half of Sunday’s game.
The Heat aren’t going to be an easy series for any team they play, but the Hawks could surprise people with their ability to compete, if indeed that was the match-up. In their first meeting of the season, Miami won comfortably, but since then it’s been a different story. The Hawks lost a heartbreaker in overtime in the American Airlines Arena back in December. A dubious foul called on DeMarre Carroll gave Ray Allen a four point play opportunity that eventually would decide the game. In their next meeting in Atlanta though, the Hawks put on a show offensively going for 121 points. The Hawks will have the opportunity to split the season series with a win in Atlanta on Saturday.
In terms of match-ups, undoubtedly LeBron James will pose the Hawks the biggest problem. Although it’s almost impossible to stop him, in DeMarre Carroll, the Hawks have a top class defender that can at least help to contain him. On the other side, Atlanta can hurt Miami on the boards, as like the Hawks, the Heat are a very poor rebounding team. Kyle Korver will also be able to find some joy, particularly when Ray Allen is on the floor, as the Heat’s three point defense can at times be a bit lax.
Overall, the Hawks are unquestionably going to have an incredibly tough series if they do indeed make the playoffs, but there’s no reason why they can’t be competitive.
Tags: Atlanta Hawks