Given where the Hawks and Bucks were a couple of months ago in the standings, it almost seems unfathomable, but the Hawks have closed the gap enough to really starting believing they have a chance at overtaking the Bucks and securing the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta is currently 4th — 3.5 games behind Milwaukee. However, the way each team is trending suggests the Hawks can catch up, even if it isn’t probable.
Since the Hawks fired Lloyd Pierce and turned to Nate McMillan, they are 18-6, and they are an even better 9-2 over their last 11. Meanwhile, the Bucks are 6-8 in their past 14 games and have dropped five of their last eight.
Now, to the remaining schedules. The Hawks and Bucks are nearly identical in terms of strength of schedule, ranking 18 and 19 respectively in the NBA. However, the Bucks still have to play Philadelphia and Brooklyn twice — the two top teams in the East.
If Atlanta wants any chance of pulling off what would have been considered a miracle two months ago, it will come down to these next few games for both teams. Milwaukee matches up with Philadelphia in back-to-back games; then they travel to Atlanta to face the Hawks on the second night of a back-to-back. That’s a perfect opportunity for Atlanta to make up some substantial ground, but they don’t have an easy road either.
The Hawks play the Knicks on the road tonight, who are the hottest team in the NBA, winners of seven straight. They then play another playoff team in the Heat before meeting up with the Bucks in what could turn out to be the most critical matchup of the regular season.
If the Hawks want any shot of taking over the 3rd seed, you have to think they must at least split with Knicks and Heat before handling the Bucks at home. However, if they can somehow win all three, they can really give Milwaukee a scare down the stretch. It won’t be easy, especially considering the Hawks still aren’t at full strength, but they are playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. I’m not putting anything past this team right now.