Eastern Conference Standings
Take a look at the standings above. One thing that stands out is the level of closeness between each of the teams near the Atlanta Hawks in the standings. Even though there are just a few games left on the schedule (five for Atlanta), these tight standings mean that there’s still a lot that could change before the playoffs begin. For Atlanta, that could be both good and bad, since there is plenty of room for the team to move up or down over the final week and a half. With that in mind, here’s a brief breakdown of where the Hawks stand in relation to the conference.
Realistically, Atlanta could move as high as fifth place by the end of the season, since anything higher is out of reach. In the same vein, the Hawks could slip as low as ninth-place, although this seems unlikely. FiveThirtyEight doesn’t view Atlanta favorably, but still has the team’s playoff chances at 87% as of Tuesday morning.
As far as fifth-place goes, this is still within reach for the Hawks. The Milwaukee Bucks (who currently hold a one-game lead over Atlanta for this spot) are on the road in Oklahoma City tonight, a game that FiveThirtyEight expects them to lose. If this happens, the Hawks will be just a half-game out, which is easily surmountable. The Bucks’ next game comes on the road in Indiana, another game that they could potentially lose as well. The Hawks need Milwaukee to lose a few more times to have a chance of moving up, but the schedule suggests that this is quite possible.
However, Atlanta’s schedule until the end of the season is brutal, especially considering the team’s recent slump. The Hawks play Boston, Cleveland, Cleveland, Charlotte, and Indiana to finish out the season. The last game, which is in Indianapolis, looks almost definite to determine at least one team’s playoff matchup. This schedule is made even more difficult by the fact that the Celtics and Cavaliers are locked into a battle for first place right now. Both of these teams are much better than Atlanta, and will almost definitely be playing as hard as they can down the stretch.
Largely because of this rough schedule, FiveThirtyEight projects the Hawks to finish at 41-41, in seventh place in the East. The site also predicts that Boston will get the top seed, meaning that Atlanta could very well face Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. This forecast may very well look much different after tonight’s games — Chicago, Milwaukee, and Indiana all play while Atlanta rests — but as of this moment a 2/7 matchup with the Cavaliers is a very real possibility.
FiveThirtyEight’s projection doesn’t account for Paul Millsap’s return though, which could easily help the Hawks play better than the model predicts. FiveThirtyEight’s model doesn’t take injuries into account, which means that in its eyes the Hawks have simply fallen off of a cliff over the past few weeks (an assessment that is at least partially true anyways). In any case, a healthy Hawks team certainly has better odds than the injury-riddled version of recent weeks.
No matter who is playing or not playing though, the Hawks face a difficult task in playing the Celtics and Cavaliers multiple times. Charlotte and Indiana are both winnable games, but the Pacers will probably be favored since the game is in Indianapolis. Atlanta needs a few more wins to finish in fifth or sixth place, but it’s difficult to see where those wins will come from.
Perhaps most importantly though, the standings are close enough that nearly anything can happen between now and April 12 (Atlanta’s last game). Fortunately, the Hawks are very likely to make the playoffs, even if the seed Atlanta gets is sub-optimal. Hawks fans should keep a close eye on the scores on Tuesday, since these games will have a large effect on the team’s standings.