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Celtics vs. Hawks preview: Atlanta kicks off stretch run against Boston

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The Hawks had a three-day break to prepare for the Celtics.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks face a difficult stretch of the schedule as the 2016-2017 NBA season winds to a close and that begins on Thursday evening. After three consecutive off days, the Hawks will play host to Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics in a potential playoff preview match-up and the eyes of the NBA world will be on Atlanta given the national television platform on TNT.

These two teams have split the first two battles this season, with the road team winning on both occasions. One of Atlanta’s best performances of the season came in Boston on Feb. 27, when the Hawks trounced the Celtics by a 114-98 margin in unexpected fashion.

With that said, the Celtics are certainly the better team despite a blowout loss on Wednesday to the Cavaliers and the playing field is leveled by both homecourt advantage for the Hawks and the additional rest for the home team. In terms of match-ups, the headliners are at center and point guard, where old friend Al Horford takes on Dwight Howard and Dennis Schröder looks to contain All-Star Isaiah Thomas. The feud between Schröder and Thomas seemed to cool during the last meeting, but both face-offs will garner a lot of attention throughout the evening.

The Hawks will enter this game at near-full strength, with only Thabo Sefolosha expected to miss the proceedings as a result of his lingering groin issue. A handful of players, headlined by Paul Millsap, are listed as probable, but Atlanta is in desperate need of a victory and it would be a surprise if anyone was given the night off at this point. It remains to be seen as to whether Millsap and/or Kent Bazemore will reappear in the starting lineup but, regardless, both are expected to see significant time.

FiveThirtyEight prescribes a virtual coin-flip in this game, with Boston winning 51 percent of time in their simulations. In that same vein, the Celtics are listed as (very) small favorites in Las Vegas and this has all the makings of a close-fought battle for 48 minutes. As of now, the Hawks have the inside track to reach the NBA Playoffs despite their recent swoon but a win here would go a long way toward ensuring further safety.

Stay tuned.

Game Info

Game Date/Time: Thursday, April 6, 8:00 p.m. ET

Location: Philips Arena

TV: TNT

Radio: 92.9 “The Game” FM