The Hawks are in the midst of a six game losing streak, the second longest such stretch this season. It is never good to see a team struggle this close to the playoffs, but the skid is understandable with Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap both being absent because of injuries for the last half of the six game period. Nevertheless, two of the losses have come to teams not in the playoffs, both by double digits. The other losses however were somewhat predictable. The Hawks ran into the always contending Spurs, the new and improved Wizards, and the Bucks who have been the hottest team in the NBA since Khris Middleton returned from injury. This losing streak has changed a lot about the outlook on the Hawk, both short and long term.
Now 6.5 games behind the Raptors for the 4th spot, the Hawks highest possible seed this year would be the 5th seed, which they are tied with the Bucks for currently. That would mean that, most likely, the Hawks would have a first round matchup with the Raptors. The Hawks won the season series 2-1, following up that 42 point loss to the Raps with two wins. Even as the lower seed, the advantage would be slightly in the Hawks favor as they have looked like the better team this season when they are matched up. Assuming the Hawks beat the Raptors, that would mean a second round matchup against the #1 seed. This is where it gets interesting, because the Cavs have a mere 0.5 game lead on the Celtics for that spot. Basically, the later the Hawks have to face the Cavs, the better. Cleveland has handed Atlanta two straight playoff sweeps, so matching up to them in the second round is not ideal. If they can maintain their hold on that number one spot, it would actually favor the Hawk’s chances of making it to the Conference championship to be the sixth, or even seventh seed.
If the standings stay the same, the 6th seed will match up with the Wizards and the seventh with the Celtics. Those are both matchups that the Hawks can win just as easily as their opponent. And in those scenarios, they won’t have to face the Cavaliers in the second round. Cleveland does not look like a great team right now. They are 5-5 in their last ten games and at times really struggle. But if there is one thing we have learned, no player steps up their game in the playoffs more than LeBron James. He gets a lot of hate for resting late in the season, but he has already logged more career minutes than Michael Jordan, and he still has quite a few more years to go before he retires. When he gets to the playoffs he uses that little energy he was able to reserve and becomes a near unstoppable force. It is no accident two years ago the Hawks won the season series, then were swept. Or that last year the Hawks were one of the hotter teams in the east, and still couldn’t manage a win. Making it to the Conference Finals would be a huge accomplishment for this team. It could convince Paul Millsap to stay and it could even convince a big free agent that the Hawks are just one piece away from being a real contender.
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