The Atlanta Hawks look to continue trending upward in the Eastern Conference standings Friday night when they close out a three-game home stand with a matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. Friday's game is important for the Hawks as they prepare for a four-game road trip that begins on Sunday in Milwaukee. Atlanta is trying to keep pace with the Nets and the Knicks in the standings while also holding off Chicago and Boston along the way.
The East standings are still tightly jumbled but there has been some separation this week. The Hawks trail the third place Knicks by three games and the Nets by two going into Friday. Atlanta now holds a 1.5 game lead over both Chicago and Boston.
For motivation the Hawks need look no further than Monday's disappointing effort against Dallas when they prepare to take on the Trail Blazers on Friday. Portland is eerily similar to the Mavericks and even boasts the same identical record at 32-36. They are not the most explosive offensive team although they have players that are equally capable of putting up big numbers.
Portland has gone 6-5 during the month of March but are getting big time production from LeMarcus Aldridge and rookie Damian Lillard. Aldridge is averaging a double-double for the month at 23.1 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Lillard has been equally as effective averaging 22 points and 7.4 assists while also hitting half of his field goal attempts. Combine those two with solid contributions from the likes of Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson and you have a more than capable team.
The problem for the Trail Blazers has been their bench play and what happens when Aldridge and company is off the court. Atlanta catching them on the second night of a back-to-back in that scenario could play a big factor in Friday's game.
It often seems that every Hawks game begins and ends with head coach Larry Drew talking about his team's energy and whether or not they are willing to bring it every night. On Monday their energy at least on the defensive side of the basketball got lost on the way to the arena. They rebounded on Wednesday with a solid effort in a win over the Bucks that Drew treated in many ways like a playoff game.
Expect to see a similar trend over the remainder of the season until their final seeding is locked up and especially when the team is coming off of an off day.
Game Date/Time: Friday, March 22, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 680 The Fan, 93.7 FM
Online Streaming: NBA League Pass Broadband
Odds: Atlanta is a 7.5 point favorite at home against Portland