The Atlanta Hawks took the Eastern Conference by storm in 2014-15, riding a 19-game winning streak to a 40-8 record before finishing the regular season with a No. 1 seed at 60-22.
Can Atlanta replicate its success again next year?
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In an ESPN.com round-table speculating on the NBA’s biggest risers and fallers in 2015-16, four out of five panelists chose the Hawks as the East squad to “suffer the biggest fall.” Here is some of what each had to say:
"Kevin Pelton: I might have said the Hawks no matter what after they unexpectedly won an East-high 60 games last season, but losing DeMarre Carroll without an obvious starting-caliber replacement on the roster means Atlanta could tumble even further."
"Marc Stein: Atlanta lost DeMarre Carroll, true, but the Hawks didn’t lose their Eastern Conference membership. So I’m not so sure their fall will even classify as steep. But there will be slippage."
"Ian Begely: Picking the Hawks here isn’t an indictment of their offseason. It’s more a reflection of the idea that it’s hard for any team to duplicate a 60-win season."
"Brian Windhorst: They probably overachieved in 2014-15 and they really weren’t the same team in the last quarter of the season. So much of their style of play is based on harmony and rhythm, and that will be hard to maintain. I don’t think it’ll be a drastic fall, but I’m not sure that’s a 60-win roster."
J.A. Adande was the lone participant who did not choose Atlanta. Oddly enough, his pick, the Toronto Raptors, is who Carroll signed with.
For the most part, I agree with the general consensus that the Hawks will regress by default. They came out of nowhere (38-44 in 2013-14) and took a lot of opponents by surprise last year. Now that they’ve proven themselves as an elite team in the East, other clubs will be gunning for them all season.
As Windhorst noted, we began to see signs of this heading into the playoffs. Over its final 21 games, Atlanta went just 11-10. This can be partially attributed to the fact that the Hawks took their foot off the gas pedal knowing they had the conference’s top seed locked up, but it may also be a sign that the rest of the league began to figure them out.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers won four straight from Atlanta by an average margin of 13.25 points per game, a greater spread than the 9.25 PPG by which they swept the 40-42 Boston Celtics in Round 1.
That number means nothing in the literal sense, but might it foreshadow the Hawks falling back towards the pack after their unexpected success in 2014-15?
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