For the most part, the Atlanta Hawks have performed at a reasonable level through the first nine games of the season. The team is 5-4 and sitting in sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference, and at home, the Hawks have an unblemished 4-0 mark. With that on the table, there is a defined opportunity for Atlanta to make a run in the standings over the next two weeks, as the schedule opens up in considerable fashion.
Over the next 15 days, the Hawks will play six of their seven contests in the friendly confines of Philips Arena, and they will do so against a favorable slate of opponents. The somewhat hapless Lakers begin the run on Tuesday evening, and with games against the Pistons, Celtics and struggling Hornets on the docket in addition to more "toss-up" match-ups with the Raptors and Pelicans, a 5-1 home mark over that time period certainly isn't out of the question.
In fact, the combined record of Atlanta's next six opponents at Philips Arena is a modest 24-32, and with how the team is playing at home, that lines up for a potentially strong performance. It is far too early to begin projecting "must-haves" at this point in the calendar, but anything short of a 4-2 record would be strongly disappointing given the opponents and the (relative) health for the Hawks.
The fact that the Atlanta Hawks have managed to post a 5-4 record should not be surprising on the surface, but given the way that the schedule has cooked, we haven't "learned" a lot about the team when compared to the upper-tier clubs around the league. The five victories have come against Indiana, New York (twice), Utah and a Dwyane Wade-less Miami team, while the quartet of defeats have come on the road against the high-flying Raptors, defending champion Spurs, in double-OT against the Hornets (on a questionable officiating decision) and against the buzzsaw that is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In fairness, we may not "learn" a great deal about the team if they simply take care of business against lesser competition in the next two weeks, but simply executing against inferior opponents is half the battle in making a playoff push in the NBA, and that can't be ignored. I believe that the Atlanta Hawks are a good basketball team, and even if they can't "prove" that in the coming days, they can make significant headway in the Eastern Conference.