Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hawks' Playoff Impact Could Be Huge

Three Eastern Conference teams have won at least eight of their last ten games, and amid all the talk of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic, one red-hot team that has managed to fly under the national media radar is the Atlanta Hawks. In case you’ve missed them recently, the Hawks have won their last eight at home, including wins over the Pistons, Hornets, Jazz, Blazers and the Mavericks by an average margin of more than 12 points, with only a 6-point loss in Cleveland (no shame in that) sandwiched in between.

The Hawks may be no good on the road (14-22, vs. 28-7 at home), but they have mastered the all-important art of taking care of business at home, taking down the Nuggets and the Rockets, and playing the Cavaliers very tough (1 win, and a 1-point loss). While some quality teams they’ve beaten tend to struggle on the road, the Hawks are buckling down and winning home games, against top teams, that contending teams should win. With just eleven regular season games remaining, and the Hawks holding a 3.5-game lead for the Eastern Conference’s #4 spot, and the first-round home court advantage that comes with it, there’s no reason to think that the Hawks won’t advance in the playoffs, where they’d likely wind up facing the virtually-unbeatable-at-home Cavs in Round 2. And while I’m in the majority that cannot see them winning that series, it’s important to remember that no one (myself included) gave them any shot at all against Boston last year.

Less than a year after backing into the NBA Playoffs, shocking the NBA and pushing the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics to a seventh game in their opening round playoff series, the Atlanta Hawks are not only back in the playoffs, but are poised to make even more noise this season, with both their own playoff outlook and a schedule (home games vs. the Spurs, Celtics Lakers and Magic, and road games at Philadelphia and Boston) that promises to shape the playoff picture leaguewide.

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