Hawks Postseason Push: A look at the Eastern Conference Playoff Race

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For the first time in many of the younger Hawks’ careers, they are playing meaningful games down the stretch in hopes of making some noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Atlanta hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017, and Hawks’ players are aware. “You want to do that heading into the postseason, so for us, for a lot of the guys that have been here, we haven’t been in this type of situation where games are important late down the stretch,” Trae Young said after last night’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“So this is definitely a test. It’s something that we can go through together and we can learn together. We have guys that have been in the playoffs, and for us that haven’t, we can definitely lean on those guys a lot for advice and things like that, especially going down the stretch when you’re playing in games that matter…”

Since Nate McMillan took over, the Hawks are 24-11 and have improved in every facet of the game. After Monday’s win over Portland, Atlanta has sole possession of the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference standings. Saturday’s win over Chicago guaranteed they would at the very least make the play-in tournament, but the team is hoping for a top-six finish as the seventh through tenth seeds will battle amongst themselves for two spots.

Following last night’s win, the Hawks have a half-game lead on the sixth seed Heat and 1.5-game lead on the seventh seed Celtics — owning the tiebreaker against both teams. The surprise of the season has to be the Knicks, who are currently the fourth seed and winners of 12 of their last 13 games — 1.5 games ahead of the Hawks. Tom Thibodeau should be credited with this turnaround as the culture has completely changed — once the 23rd ranked team in Defensive Rating; they are now third in the same statistic in just one season.

With six regular-season games left, Atlanta controls their own destiny for the first time in a long time. Five of their final six games are at home — Suns, Wizards twice, Magic, and Rockets — and the sixth is on the road against the Pacers. The Suns are the only team with a winning record, so the Hawks have a fairly good chance of at least maintaining the fifth seed.

Ideally, the Hawks would overtake the Knicks for the fourth seed, giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but holding the fifth seed has to be the top priority. If Atlanta were to drop to the sixth seed, their first-round series would likely be against Milwaukee, and if the Hawks were to fall any further, they would be apart of the play-in tournament.

When the Hawks fired Lloyd Pierce, they were the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference. Fast forward a couple of months, and McMillan has helped bring this city postseason basketball for the first time since 2017. But I don’t think that’s enough for this group; they want to make some noise once they get there.


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