The Atlanta Hawks are a virtual lock to finish in the playoffs, and FiveThirtyEight gives the team a 95 percent chance of doing so. With games against the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, and Portland Trail Blazers, this past week provided a nice chance for the Hawks to measure themselves against other playoff-hopeful teams. Unfortunately, the Hawks didn’t perform well at all, going 0-3 in these contests.
The Memphis Grizzlies provided perhaps the most interesting of these matchups, since their defense-first approach mirrors the Hawks’ strategy. Both teams also post good clutch ratings, and outperform their point differentials. Memphis and Atlanta split the season series this year — with the other game coming at the end of last week — and both look primed to finish with similar records. Despite these similarities, Memphis prevailed on Thursday night by a score of 103-91.
The Spurs and Trail Blazers contests ended in losses as well. Atlanta’s games against San Antonio are always interesting, given Mike Budenolzer’s history with the Spurs, but the Hawks were unable to win this most recent contest. This is hardly a terrible result, since San Antonio is a really good team, but the home loss against Portland on Saturday night was fairly concerning. The Hawks looked flat from start to finish, capping off an unsuccessful week with a particularly bad performance.
Paul Millsap’s absence explains much of this loss, and the team looked lost and disoriented all evening. However, as valuable as he is, Atlanta’s lack of any offensive or defensive threats in Millsap’s absence is concerning. Hopefully he will not be sidelined long, and will be able to return to the starting lineup soon.
Atlanta continues a streak of playing playoff-hopeful teams next week, although it switches over to the Eastern Conference. Charlotte (first on the list) is a long shot to finish in the top eight in the East, but Washington and Milwaukee both look like good bets to make the postseason. Playing the Wizards will be an especially important matchup, since the team has been so good of late. Even with a playoff spot likely assured, Atlanta needs a chance to build up momentum and consistent play before the season ends.
The Hawks look mostly locked into fifth place, but these next games are still important. There’s still a chance that Toronto could fall farther, which would give the Hawks home-court advantage in the first round (although that looks even more unlikely after Saturday night’s game). By the same token though, Indiana lurks just a few games behind the Hawks, and could be primed to move up in the standings if Atlanta’s slump continues. The next few weeks will be very important for the team, even if the playoff seeding looks unlikely to change at the moment.