Atlanta Hawks Need To Seize Home Court Opportunity

Mar 8, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) brings the ball up the court in the second quarter of their game against the Brooklyn Nets at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 110 - 105. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) brings the ball up the court in the second quarter of their game against the Brooklyn Nets at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 110 - 105. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Having closed the gap on the fourth-place Toronto Raptors with an impressive win on Friday, the Atlanta Hawks should now be making home court advantage their top priority.

At this late stage of the season, there are countless reasons why a team could start to fade, and the Atlanta Hawks are no exception.

Having struggled initially in their return from the All-Star break and with tensions apparently running high with point guard Dennis Schröder, the path to late-season combustion was clear for Atlanta.

Since Schröder and Howard exchanged words in a narrow loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, things have started to look up again, though.

In spite of finding themselves in something of a hole early on against the lowly Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta found a way to rally back and win on Wednesday, before following that up with an impressive victory over a potential playoff opponent, the Toronto Raptors.

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As a result, the Hawks are only two games back of the Raptors for fourth place in the Eastern standings and all-important home advantage in a first-round series.

With Cleveland’s injury problems and recent struggles in terms of results, there are plenty of opportunities at the top of the East, and still a possibility that the top few seeds may shake out differently than expected by the time the postseason is officially here.

Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta Hawks /

Atlanta Hawks

As a result, even at a time when the Hawks look less convincing than they have for a number of years, real chances lie ahead for Mike Budenholzer’s team.

Since a nightmarish 44-point loss in Toronto back at the start of December, the Hawks have played the Raptors very well.

They managed to outscore Toronto by 125-121 on their home floor less than two weeks after that first loss and now with Friday’s 105-99 victory in Atlanta they’ve also shown they’re capable of grinding a win out over their Canadian rivals.

Although there’s still plenty of time for things to change, as it stands, the Hawks and Raptors look likely to face off in a potential 4-5 matchup.

Atlanta has recent playoff history with Boston, Washington and Cleveland, but has yet to come head-to-head with this Toronto group in a meaningful series.

The Raptors have had the edge in regular series contests between the two teams in recent years, but that advantage has only been even more apparent at the Air Canada Centre.

Including their success there earlier this season, the Hawks have only won on two of their last eight visits to Canada, as opposed to beating Toronto on four of the last seven occasions they’ve hosted the Raptors at Philips Arena.

For as much as the Hawks have been a punchline of many jokes around the league for their attendance numbers over the years, there can be little debating that the people of Atlanta have rallied around their team in a notable way in playoff matches.

The home court atmosphere may not always lend itself to the Hawks’ advantage in the regular season, but the influence of a packed, postseason Philips Arena shouldn’t be underestimated.

On the other hand, the Raptors play host to what’s likely the biggest home advantage in the Eastern Conference.

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The Air Canada Centre is reliably loud throughout the regular season and yet not just those in the arena, but the wider city still find a way to ratchet things up a notch for playoff basketball.

Maybe that’s a result of the Raptors being Canada’s sole NBA representative, or the fact that Toronto isn’t an NFL city or even more simply that the organization has built a more genuine connection with the local people.

Regardless, getting a postseason win on their court with the chaos of Jurassic Park outside is no easy task.

Atlanta’s next seven games include matchups with dangerous playoff-bound opponents such as the Spurs, Wizards and Grizzlies (twice), but beyond that stretch the Hawks will have a run of five straight against Philadelphia, Phoenix, Chicago and Brooklyn (twice).

If the Hawks can hold their own against their more accomplished opponents and then win the games they should have the necessary talent to win, the fourth spot will truly be theirs for the taking.

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Playoff series can often be decided by the smallest of margins and if the Hawks could enter the first round holding home advantage against a Raptors team hoping to re-integrate the injured Kyle Lowry, the door to advance could be wide open.