Breaking down the tough final ten game regular season stretch for the Hawks

Nate McMillan

This has been one of the strangest seasons for the Hawks in recent memory; they exploded against the Bulls on opening night and shattered multiple NBA scoring records but began slumping as injuries piled up. Poor play combined with losing excessive fourth quarter leads led to the dismissal of Lloyd Pierce and the promotion of Nate McMillan

McMillan has been fantastic, and I laid out part of what has made the Hawks so successful earlier this week. While Travis Schlenk built a tremendous roster, McMillan has coached through a laundry list of injuries that would have most teams picking in the top three of the draft. 

Since March 1st, the Hawks are 7-8 in games when they have trailed by double digits, compared to 1-14 under Pierce. The Hawks have only played FIFTEEN total minutes with Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanović, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, and Clint Capela on the floor. It’s absolutely incredible that they sit at 34-28 and tied with the Knicks for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. 

However, Atlanta has a couple of big bumps in the road left before the playoffs begin. Getting healthy is the most important thing, especially after Kevin Huerter and Brandon Goodwin were dinged up in last night’s loss to Detroit.

 

Wednesday, April 28th & Friday, April 30th @ Philadelphia

The Hawks will get the 76ers in Philly for two games in a row, a team that is currently six games ahead of them. These two games could be the most demanding tests on Atlanta’s remaining schedule, and although the Hawks clawed back to beat the Bucks on Sunday, they will still likely be missing Trae Young, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and others like Tony Snell. Luckily, Kris Dunn looked solid on defense in his return from a 15-month injury recovery, and Lou Williams is expected to play on Wednesday after going off in the fourth quarter against the Bucks.

Slowing down MVP candidate Joel Embiid will be a tough task — Clint Capela will have to be on his A-Game. With Trae Young out, Bogdan Bogdanović will likely command a lot of Ben Simmons‘ attention. Trae could possibly make it back for Friday’s matchup, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Even without the devastating injuries, this is a tough matchup for Atlanta. However, the Hawks won the only matchup of the season between these teams by 18, so there is hope that they can at least split this series and keep pace ahead of the Celtics and Heat.

 

Saturday, May 1st vs. Chicago

I don’t like the Hawks flying back home one day after a two-game stretch in Philly, but you have to play the opponent on the schedule. This is probably the earliest that Trae Young could make a return from his sprained ankle, and it would be a welcome sight. As I mentioned, the Hawks lit up Chicago for 124 points on opening night — posting 42 points in the first quarter and 83 points in the first half on 54% shooting from the floor and 40% from behind the arc as a team. Forty-two points in a quarter is a franchise record, and 83 points in a half were the second-most in NBA history. Trae Young was especially fantastic in that game, pouring in 37 points and seven assists, shooting 5-6 from three. Atlanta is 2-0 against Chicago, beating the Bulls by 12 in their only other matchup in February.

 

Monday, May 3rd vs. Portland

The Blazers have been a streaky team all season, and they’re currently losers of five in a row as I’m writing this before tonight’s game against the Pacers. Getting Damian Lillard under control is no easy task, as he’s once again putting up MVP caliber numbers with 28/4/7 and shooting 37% from three. CJ McCollum is chipping in over 23 points per game, and Norman Powell was a solid trade deadline pickup. Currently sitting as the seventh seed in the west, this Blazers team will come out ready to fight for their playoff hopes. With Jamal Murray out for Denver, the Western Conference could be wide open for Portland to make another playoff run.

 

Wednesday, May 5th vs. Phoenix

Chris Paul has not been getting the credit he deserves this season, and it seems like he was the final piece of the puzzle out in Phoenix. Monty Williams should win Coach of the Year if Thibs doesn’t, but I don’t think anybody in the NBA wants to face off with the red-hot Suns right now (no pun intended). Currently sitting as the two seed, Phoenix is only one game behind the Utah Jazz for the best record in the NBA and top seed in the Western Conference. 

On top of Paul helping the unit gel, Devin Booker has been fantastic, scoring over 25 points per game and shooting 35% from three. De’Andre Ayton looks like a true number one pick, as Trae Young’s classmate is posting over 15 points and 10 rebounds per game and shooting almost 63% from the floor. The Suns are similar to the Hawks in the sense that they get a lot of production from a lot of guys and are well-coached. Their fourth-leading scorer, Mikal Bridges, is shooting 40% from three. The first game between these two was originally supposed to be played in January but was postponed due to COVID. Atlanta lost the other matchup by seven back on March 30th — the last day the Hawks were under .500 in 2021. Atlanta tried to mount a big comeback late but ultimately fell short. This is going to be a fun one to watch, and I expect a very close game.

 

Thursday, May 6th @ Indiana

Another back-to-back in a new city, the Hawks will go toe-to-toe with Nate McMillan’s old squad that fired him less than nine months ago. The Pacers are currently the ninth seed in the East, but they’re only three games back of the sixth seed. Indiana shoots the ball very well — Malcolm Brogdon, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner can all step out and hit a three. Not to mention, they have the March Madness legend Dougie McBuckets. Caris LaVert has been pretty good since returning to the team, and Oshae Brissett has been a gem for them. Since coming up on two ten-day contracts, he’s leading the team with a 42% mark from three. The Hawks have split with the Pacers so far, losing the first game in February under Lloyd Pierce by 12. More recently, in April, the Hawks dominated the Pacers as Clint Capela put up 25 points and 24 rebounds. Trae Young also went for 34 and 11. 

 

Monday, May 10th & Wednesday, May 12th vs. Washington

The Wizards have been a much better team of late, and as a result, they have an outside chance at the postseason. After losing 15 of their first 20 games, Washington has been insanely inconsistent. The Wizards peeled off eight wins in their next nine games after that horrible start and continued to be very streaky all season by rattling off long losing streaks. However, Washington has won 10 of their last 12, with one of those losses being by three points in overtime. You can attribute most of their success to Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. Westbrook averages 22/11/11 per game this season, and Beal is averaging 31 points and shooting 35% from three. In their only matchup of 2021, Trae went for 41 and the Hawks cruised to a 16 point win. Still, this isn’t a team you want to be playing right now, especially with playoff hopes on the line in the new format.

 

Thursday, May 13th vs. Orlando

Thankfully, the Hawks get two “easy” games that should help them cruise into the playoffs. The lowly Magic have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, but they have some quality wins in 2021. Nikola Vucevic led them in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks per game before being shipped to Chicago, and Orlando hasn’t put up much of a fight since. They’re 5-25 over their last 30, but they have beaten the Nets, Suns, and Clippers over that span. In short, the Hawks shouldn’t take them lightly. The Hawks are 2-0 vs. Orlando this season, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t sweep them.

 

Sunday, May 16th vs. Houston

In the season finale, the Hawks get the worst team in the NBA at home after playing the worst team in the Eastern Conference at home. Out of their last 40 games, the Rockets have five total wins — four of them coming against the Thunder, Raptors, Timberwolves, and Magic. The only team with a winning record that they have beat since January 30th is the Mavericks. The Rockets set team records by losing 12 straight games by double digits amid a 20-game losing streak. However, they still have some nice young pieces like Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr, and… that’s about it. John Wall has been solid since returning from injury. The Hawks easily beat the Rockets by 12 in their only other matchup, and hopefully, there is nothing left for Atlanta to play for at this point.

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