The Hawks’ throttling of OKC on Wednesday was a start. Now the battle for play-in seeding is in full swing. The team behind Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings, New York, has been all but eliminated from contention. In order to gain a more favorable route to the playoffs, Trae Young and company are shooting for the 7th or 8th seed. Currently, they’re one game behind the Nets for the coveted 8th seed, but it’s an uphill climb.
The Hawks’ remaining six games will likely determine the fate of their season. The final opponents are: the Cavaliers (7th seed), the Nets (8th), the Raptors (6th), a slight respite with the Wizards, then a matchup with Miami and a gimme against the Rockets. Every team 7-9, with the possible exception of the Cavs, has a more manageable schedule to close the season out. So what are the keys to the stretch run?
Trae Keeps Doing His Thing
In order to move up the standings, Ice Trae has to keep balling out. On Wednesday, the superstar recorded his league-leading tenth 40-point game.
No thunder but it was Icy ❄️
Tenth 40-point game of the season (ties NBA lead) pic.twitter.com/1MOGeRP2or
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) March 31, 2022
With John Collins out, Young has stepped up to maintain Atlanta’s second ranked offense in the NBA. He’s also dished out continuous assists, ranking third in the league behind Chris Paul and James Harden. If Trae continues to pack the stat sheet, he could carry the team to a higher seed. Some players are just clutch: Trae Young is one of them. Look for the King of New York to rise to the occasion and thrive under pressure.
Can the Hawks recapture their intensity?
Talent oozes from this roster. Consistency, however, has been the issue. They’ve lost their identity at times this season. The fierce underdog mentality that they rode to the Eastern Conference Finals hasn’t been there on a nightly basis. I buy into Trae’s leadership. He brings so much passion and emotion to the game; it’s hard not to believe the Hawks will rekindle their spark. For the final days of the regular season and beyond, no possessions should be taken off on either side of the floor.
How do Others step up?
De’Andre Hunter. Kevin Huerter. Bogdan Bogdanovic. Clint Capela. Atlanta’s roster is cluttered with potential. All of these players have shown what they’re capable of, but for some reason or another have had problems sustaining their results. One or more of the Hawks’ young stars peaking as the season winds down could be the difference between the 10 seed and the 7 seed. Due to Travis Schlenk’s impressive roster construction, an MVP caliber performance isn’t needed. The little things add up. It could be De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela elevating the defense, or Huerter and Bogdanovic serving as lethal offensive threats. A combination of timely performances is what Atlanta needs to carry them on another playoff run.
After 2021, the NBA should be on alert for the Atlanta Hawks and Trae Young again. They’re out to prove that last year was no fluke. If they do these three things, it’s possible they make yet another shocking playoff appearance and put the league on notice.