The Atlanta Hawks are still in good shape.
That is a familiar refrain as the team takes the floor against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday at Philips Arena, but after a dismal defeat at the hands of the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, nothing is assured in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Yes, the Hawks still hold a 1.5-game lead with a tiebreaker advantage, but after witnessing what the team put together in an incredibly winnable position on Tuesday, it would be irresponsible to "pencil in" a win at home, even against the Celtics.
Speaking of Boston, Rajon Rondo and Brad Stevens also fell victim to the Pistons in their last outing (a 115-111 loss on Saturday night), but things are much uglier for the C's than the Hawks right now. The Celtics have lost 12 of their last 13 games as they aim to complete the stretch run, and while they are visibly trying for the most part, the talent level is quite low.
Boston is expected to welcome back defensive stalwart Avery Bradley from injury on Wednesday, but even with that, the somewhat healthy Hawks (Lou Williams' status remains unclear as of this morning) have a talent edge. The frontcourt trio of Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass is solid for Boston, and it will be quite interesting to see how the Hawks respond to the different looks that they can present on the interior. However, the biggest emphasis on this game will simply be making shots as the trio of DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic and Kyle Korver (!) combined to shoot just 10 for 39 from the floor on Tuesday. That won't get it done.
If there is a "match-up to watch", it is probably the point guard spot with Jeff Teague and Rajon Rondo battling it out. The 28-year-old Rondo still isn't playing on back-to-backs for Boston, but with a few days off here, he should be at full-strength, and his length and basketball IQ present certain issues for Teague, especially on the defensive end. However, the more intriguing sight may be when youngster Dennis Schröder takes the floor against the player that many have compared him to during his young career.
To be fair and honest, the Atlanta Hawks could easily make the playoffs even if they lost to the Celtics on Wednesday night, but it would be wholly inexplicable to lose two straight home games to Detroit and Boston at this point in the season. If the Hawks are focused and executing at a reasonably high level, they should have no problem securing a victory, but that is anything but assured.
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, April 9, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM