The Eastern Conference is a bloodbath. Outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors perched at the top of the standings, the rest of the conference is engaged in a battle for positioning, to the point where the eight teams falling between third and tenth in the standings are separated by just six games.
In short, the Eastern Conference Playoff picture is wide open.
That, of course, extends to the Atlanta Hawks, who sit in fifth place (as of the games ending on Mar. 2) with a record of 33-28. While the Hawks fell at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in overtime on Tuesday night, the team picked up back-to-back wins over their "competition" in the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets over the weekend, and those victories certainly helped Atlanta's positioning.
However, the Hawks now face an uphill battle down the stretch of the 2015-2016 season. A quick look at the remaining schedule, for the teams slotted between third and tenth, reveals that the Hawks actually have the most difficult schedule ahead. Atlanta's remaining opponents have a collective winning percentage of 52.4% (h/t RealGM), while only the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons face schedules with a collective percentage of greater than 50%.
Part of that somewhat brutal stretch for Mike Budenholzer's team will take place during the remainder of this trip, with road games against the Clippers, Jazz and Raptors. Beyond that, though, the Hawks must face the Cavaliers two additional times, with three (total) games against Toronto and contests against Boston, Chicago and Indiana on the docket.
While there is no need for panic about Atlanta's upcoming schedule given the (small) cushion in the standings, it should be noted that the Hawks still face some level of uncertainty with regard to even making the playoffs. At the time of this post, ESPN's BPI projects that Atlanta will make the playoffs more than 90% of the time and FiveThirtyEight assigns a 82% likelihood for the Hawks to finish among the top eight teams. Both of those numbers are encouraging in a vacuum, but the schedule aligns to the point where it certainly isn't a lock.
We are nearing the part of the season where each and every game (and upcoming game) will be dissected at a different level, and the Atlanta Hawks have some challenges ahead. The team can make a serious dent with a strong performance during the final four games of this road trip (even breaking even with a 2-2 record would be a "win"), but if they don't, the numbers will look even more daunting when the squad returns to Atlanta.