As an Eastern Conference team, the Atlanta Hawks have an easier schedule than many teams in the West (for example, they only have to play teams like the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs twice). However, a quick glance at the schedule highlights several difficult stretches of games throughout the year, troubled waters that the Hawks will need to navigate to have a successful season.
This list is not necessarily conclusive — and could easily change as teams develop throughout the year — but here are five stretches of games that look particularly challenging right now.
This stretch of five games in seven days over Thanksgiving weekend starts off in Atlanta against New Orleans, but then takes the Hawks on four away games against Indiana, Utah, Los Angeles (Lakers), and Golden State. The road trip concludes two days later in Phoenix, but the hard part of this stretch should be over at that point.
Golden State highlights this list as the most difficult opponent, but Utah and Indiana both have the potential to be very good this year as well. The Lakers shouldn’t be too much of a threat, but New Orleans has the talent to be much better than they were last year, meaning that four out of these five games could be against above-average teams. Although this stretch comes early in the season, it should be an important test of where the Hawks are as a team.
Three of these five games will be in Philips Arena, where Atlanta will play Detroit before traveling to Toronto, and then returning to face Oklahoma City and Miami. The Hawks will round out this stretch in Milwaukee, playing a young, talented Bucks team.
None of these five teams forecast to be elite this season, but Detroit, Toronto, and Oklahoma City all have playoff expectations and should be strong opponents. Miami and Milwaukee are harder to predict, but there are reasons to believe that both of these two teams could be good as well. In any case, Atlanta will play four playoff teams from last year in eight days, and will have the chance to build some momentum with these contests.
February 27-March 6
There are several stretches in January and February that could make this list, but none compare to the striking difficulty of this five game sequence. It starts off in Boston, before Atlanta will return home to face Dallas, Cleveland, Indiana, and Golden State.
Atlanta went a combined 0-9 against Golden State and Cleveland last year, and most of the challenge from these five games comes from facing both teams in a four-day span. Boston, Dallas, and Indiana should all be at least decent teams this year as well, though, and Atlanta can’t afford to take any one of these games off to prepare for one of the conference champions. These five games come within the last month and a half of the season, placing them right in the middle of a potential playoff push.
This stretch is a little longer than the others, and is all the more challenging for it. While it doesn’t provide the level of difficulty that facing Golden State or Cleveland does, there are no easy opponents to provide a breather between good teams.
Atlanta will play Toronto at home, before traveling to Memphis and San Antonio. The Hawks will then return home to play Memphis, Portland, and then travel to Charlotte. None of these teams (with the possible exception of the Spurs) should be elite competition, but every one of them plans on making the playoffs, and the Hawks will have to play at a high level to make it through this stretch in good shape.
Atlanta ends the season by facing Boston at home, playing Cleveland twice (one game in each arena), playing Charlotte in Philips Arena, and then traveling to Indiana. Cleveland may be in a position to rest their stars at this point in the season, but if another team (like Boston or Toronto) is on their heels for first place it seems more likely that the Hawks will face a fully-stocked Cavaliers rotation.
All of these four teams have their sights on the playoffs, and these games — since they close out the season — could have a huge impact on both playoff seeding and appearances. They also provide the opportunity to either build or waste momentum going into the postseason, as victories over any of these teams would look good for potential playoff matchups not long after.
This list of difficult stretches isn’t conclusive, and is ultimately fairly subjective based on how most of these teams look right now. The biggest takeaway, though, is that March and April could be very difficult for the Hawks. Atlanta’s schedule as a whole looks fairly manageable, but repeated contests against likely playoff teams in the final weeks of the season could be very difficult to navigate. In any case, as long as Atlanta is in contention by March, the end of the season should be very interesting.