The revamped Atlanta Hawks have found this season to be a bit of a mixed bag in terms of success. Paul Millsap is still the team’s best player (as well as its only All-Star), but the Hawks look significantly different with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard replacing Jeff Teague and Al Horford in the starting lineup.
Atlanta currently sits 5th in the Eastern Conference with a 37-32 record as of March 20th. Toronto holds the fourth spot in the East and the two teams will match up come April if the current standings hold for the rest of the regular season.
Cleveland is the only Eastern Conference team to have clinched a playoff spot so far and the Hawks still have 13 games left, so a shakeup in the standings is more than likely at this point. The team sits 9 games behind the Cavaliers, 6.5 behind the Boston Celtics, 5 behind the Washington Wizards, and 3.5 behind the Raptors, with the Pacers 2 games behind and the Bucks, Pistons, and Heat all within 3.5 games of the Hawks.
The team has been slipping of late, going 4-6 in their last 10 games and losing 3 straight going into tonight’s matchup with the Charlotte Hornets. The team still has a relatively easy schedule the rest of the year, with 2 games remaining against both the Nets and Hornets and games against the 76ers and Suns, but it remains to be seen how serious injuries to Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore are.
The Hawks, barring some unforeseen circumstances, will likely finish between 4th and 6th in the East, leaving them to play one of the Wizards, Raptors, or Pacers, in all likelihood.
The Southeast-leading Wizards have been playing excellent basketball this year. Bradley Beal and John Wall are each averaging 23 points per game with Wall adding 10.8 assists per game to average a double-double. The two form one of the best backcourts in the NBA and pose a serious problem for the Hawks should a playoff matchup between the two teams materialize. The Wizards also have an excellent cast of role-players, including Markieff Morris, Bojan Bogdanovic, Otto Porter, Jr., and Marcin Gortat, who are all averaging double figures.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have been another top-5 NBA backcourt this season, averaging 26.8 and 22.8, respectively. Lowry has been a threat from behind the arc at point guard and, while he has been an abysmal 3-point shooter, DeRozan has been a scoring threat night in and night out. The team also traded swingman Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka, significantly upgrading their frontcourt.
The Pacers are a good, if inconsistent, team led by superstar Paul George. Schroder’s mentor, point guard Jeff Teague, averages 15 points and a team-leading 7.9 assists. The team has the up-and-coming Myles Turner protecting the rim and grabbing 7 rebounds a game. This is an unlikely matchup considering neither team is likely to surge far enough in the standings.
Paul Millsap is out for the next two games, at a minimum, and Kent Bazemore figures to miss even more time. Tim Hardaway, Jr. isn’t a huge step down from Bazemore, but the Hawks have no real insurance policy in the case that Millsap’s injury is serious. If both players make it back relatively soon, the Hawks have a good chance of maintaining their current spot in the East and avoiding a first-round matchup with the Celtics or Cavaliers.
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