There are still plenty of questions to be answered for the Atlanta Hawks as the regular season continues to wind down. The Hawks are currently tied for third place in the East standings but are only one game removed from sixth in what remains a tightly contested race.
After sputtering through the first half of the season, the Hawks have righted the ship and appear to be peaking at the right time heading into the postseason. Still, can this second half surge translate into playoff success? CBSSports.com's Matt Moore is bullish on the Hawks chances and he lists them fifth behind four NBA heavyweights in his annual Playoff threat rankings.
5. Atlanta Hawks: That's right! The Hawks! I'm back to once again foolishly put my faith in this squad! I never learn!
Look, since the All-Star Break, the Hawks have the third-best net points per possession mark in the league, with the second-best defense. Last year, they were red hot through the All-Star Break, then sputtered to the end, and struggled in the playoffs. They were worn out and lost their mojo. They weren't playing with spark.
This year, they've rode under the radar and then surged down the stretch. This team has everything you want to see from the model of a dangerous team. Experience, check. Talent, check. Versatility, check. They have a good coach (who admittedly struggled mightily in the playoffs last year). The question of whether they have a player who can carry them in key moments is debatable but you can't just say Paul Millsap and Al Horford (contract year!) can't have huge games.
Plus, if they manage to get the 3-seed, they avoid the Cavaliers until the Conference Finals, when they could be on a roll, and they get the Raptors, who are the least-scary of the top two seeds in both conferences.
I'm buying the Hawks. Again. I never learn.
Moore lists the Hawks ceiling as capturing a second-round upset and then pushing the Cavaliers to the limit in a hard fought series in the Eastern Conference Finals. Their floor would be a first round upset which would raise a number of questions heading into a pivotal offseason.
The Hawks need a strong finish over the final week of the regular season. Atlanta has a tough schedule remaining but securing home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs has to be a top priority. From there it becomes about matchups and execution and as Moore says, the Hawks have the experience to make it work. This team isn't as good as the 60-win club of last season but it could be better positioned for success in the playoffs.