The Atlanta Hawks are probably, presumably, possibly, plausibly, perhaps going to be the eighth seed in the 2014 NBA Playoffs. The team's magic currently sits at just two with four games left to play. The team travels to Brooklyn tomorrow, returns the following night to face the Miami Heat Saturday, faces the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday and finishes the season in Milwaukee to take on the lowly Bucks.
As of this very moment, Hollinger's Playoff Odds simulator gives the Hawks a 97.6 percent chance of grabbing the eight spot. With the Hawks victory over the Boston Celtics last night the Cleveland Cavaliers were officially eliminated from postseason contention. For the New York Knicks to grab the eighth spot the Hawks would need to 1-3 the rest of the way and the Knicks would have to win three of their last four. The kicker? All of the Knicks final four opponents are playoff teams -- Brooklyn, Toronto and Chicago. It makes sense why the Playoff Odds simulator only gives the club a 2.4 percent chance of making the postseason.
If you wanted to see the Hawks in the lottery you're probably not going to get your wish. That subject has been discussed ad nauseum so rather than dwell on fantasy let's shift our attention to how the Hawks will fare in the postseason. The Hawks have won four of their last six games. Prior to that the team lost six-straight games. The Hawks ran the Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers out of the building, but fell to an awful Detroit Pistons team and almost fell to the Celtics last night.
Is the team that shot the Pacers out of the gym going to show up the playoffs, or the team that lost to the Pistons in April?
Who the Hawks get paired with in the postseason is going to be critical. The Pacers have been playing poorly for months now, and the Hawks held them to 23 first half points a few days ago. It doesn't mean the Hawks can beat the Pacers four times out of seven, but there's a chance. In the 2006-07 NBA season the Golden State Warriors swept the Dallas Mavericks in the regular season. They got matched up together in the postseason and the Mavs got upset. Why? Not because the Mavericks were pretenders, but rather the Warriors were just a bad matchup. These things happen in the postseason.
The situation isn't the same for the Hawks and the Pacers -- both have won two games against one another this season -- but there's more to the story. In the Pacers two losses to the Hawks they scored 87 and 88 points. In their two victories over the Hawks they scored 108 and 89. In the game they scored 89 points they won by just four points. The Pacers have the best DRtg in the NBA, but their offense is such a mess that it may not be able to carry them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Since the start of March, the Pacers have won just one game when they scored less than 90 points -- against the Hawks they only surpassed 90 once. If the Pacers still had a middle of the road offense the story is entirely different, but that's no longer the case. Getting paired with the Pacers in the first round is the best case scenario for the Hawks.
On the flipside -- and the more likely scenario -- sit the Lannister family of the NBA ( Pat Riley being Tywin obviously) the Miami Heat. If the Hawks get matched up with the Pacers it'd be reasonable to expect the series to go six or seven games. Against the Heat expecting it to go past four or five would be ill-advised. The Pacers are vulnerable, sure, but the two-time defending NBA champions are not. The Heat are coasting -- not struggling. The Hawks are 1-2 this season against the Heat have scored at least 100 points in each of those contests. Throw in a healthy, rested Wade and it's a matchup nightmare.
Yes, the Heat have lost three of their last four games. Yes, the Heat are 11th in defensive efficiency this season. However, the Heat are also second in ORtg and prior to their current mini-skid the Heat won four games in a row in which they gave up 77, 83, 67 and 78 points. That's really good. Sure, their defense hasn't been as stifling as prior seasons, but they're still really, really good. Especially in the postseason. But what separates the Heat from the Pacers is they punish you on both sides of the floor.
If the Hawks get matched up with the Heat in the first round it will probably be a Red Wedding ordeal and many will probably clamor that a Knicks vs. Heat series would have been far more interesting with how well the Knicks have played the Heat this season. If the Hawks get matched up with the Pacers things get interesting. Not only will it probably go six or seven games -- the Hawks could win the series.
Matchups are the most important ingredient in a playoff series, and the Hawks have a chance at a really good one.