Things have been going well for the Atlanta Hawks of late.
They’re winners of four of their last seven games, and while the Hawks have been home for six of those last seven contests, home has been a kind place for the Hawks recently: 7-4 in their last 11 home games.
And the Hawks have picked up some quality wins along the way too, including an MLK Day thriller vs. San Antonio — a team that the Hawks have always struggled to beat — and another cracker against the New Orleans Pelicans where Kent Bazemore hit a game-winner over the outstretched arms of Anthony Davis.
While the Hawks have another three-game homestand to look forward to after they complete Friday’s tilt against the Charlotte Hornets, the road from here to the end of the season certainly does not get easier. In fact, the toughest stretch of the Hawks’ season has yet to come.
From here on out, 21 of their final 35 games are against teams currently in the playoffs, including two matchups against the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat each. Yes, they play all of those teams twice. Then there’s the single game meetings against the Cleveland Cavaliers (though, that might not be such a bad thing right now), Houston Rockets, OKC Thunder and Toronto Raptors; who recently spanked the Hawks at home and have defeated the Hawks three times already this season.
18 of their final 35 games are on the road, so about an even split when it comes to home/away games but there’s a gruelling, season-long six game road trip to come, knocking off visits to the likes of Golden State, Houston, Utah and Minnesota in the during that trip.
All of this is going to prove quite a test in itself for this team as it’s currently constructed, but here’s the question: how will it be constructed by the time the trade deadline (February 8th)/buyout deadline arrives (March 1st)?
I think it’s fair to say nearly everyone expects the Hawks to make moves before/at the trade deadline — and they won’t be moves that improve the team. The Hawks are built to be a seller team not a stellar team, and selling time is fast approaching. But, again, this shouldn’t be anything drastically new to you at this stage (let’s not focus on that in the comments, shall we? Please?)...
The likes of Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, Dewayne Dedmon, possibly Luke Babbitt and even Mike Muscala potentially (all guys on short-term deals)...
You can lock it in that at least two/three of these players will not be with the Hawks past the trade deadline, and certainly not by the end of March 1st.
We’ve seen Ilaysova’s, Belinelli’s and Dedmon’s names in trade rumors, but maybe more surprisingly Kent Bazemore’s too.
Bazemore is one of the team’s better players and is having the best year of his career. The loss of the veteran wing would be hugely detrimental to this team, on and off the court — they would suffer a lot without him.
Ultimately, pretty much everyone on the roster is tradable in the right deal, so you should expect everything and anything this trade deadline. Everything is on the table. And it will, more than likely, involve a future asset/project coming in, not a player who necessarily will help the Hawks win games today.
Plus, at around March or so, teams that know they’re not making the playoffs begin to shift their priorities to developing young players. If Marco Belinelli isn’t traded/bought-out, you can guarantee Tyler Dorsey/DeAndre’ Bembry will seeing more of his minutes and you can guarantee that John Collins is going to see more time... Or should, in theory, because there is absolutely no reason — if he is, somehow, still around — that Belinelli should be taking minutes at the expense of Dorsey and Bembry.
With all of that said, let’s take a brief look at the schedule from here on out, break it down and see — more specifically — what the Hawks are actually dealing with month-by-month.
First, the end of January:
Home games: 3
Road games: 1
Strength of schedule: .49% (two current playoff teams)
A three game homestand helps but none of these games will be easy. The Hawks were battered in Charlotte last time out (their second game of the season) and then there’s Dwight Howard’s Atlanta return on the 31st — you know he’s going to be fired up for that game. In fact, he’s just fired up to face the Hawks in general...
The Minny game is going to be tough: that’s just a very good team in a tough Western Conference.
The one game that, perhaps, the Hawks could pull a result from would be that Wizards game. Washington are a weird team to figure out. They could absolutely run the Hawks out of the building or be down by 17 in the second quarter, so who knows how that game will go. It is on the second night of a back-to-back, so that’s worth noting...
All in all, January could be a lot worse...
Home games: 5
Road games: 6
Strength of schedule: .49% (five current playoff teams)
Definitely some winnable games here but some tough ones too...
At Boston, at Detroit, at New York, at Milwaukee and at Indiana (a tough first game back after the All-Star break)... Some tough road games there, and you can’t discount that Magic game in Orlando either. It was one the Hawks’ worst losses of last season.
The winnable games come at home: Memphis and the Lakers (though, they are much improved recently). Interesting to see how those games shakedown.
Then comes the Cleveland game: who even knows. Will they have figured things out by then? Maybe? Will they have made a trade by then? More than likely. Will the Hawks get up for this game? No doubt, so let’s see how it goes.
Home games: 6
Road games: 8
Strength of schedule: .55% (nine current playoff teams)
Here we go, this is the killer month.
That is brutal: A six game road trip, two meetings with the Warriors, Houston on the road, Minny on the road, Utah on the road, Toronto on the road and OKC at home. And you can’t count out the Bulls, who ran the Hawks out of their own building last time out.
Plus, it’s March by this stage, so the trade deadline has come and gone and the buyout deadline (if you want to sign for a playoff team) has come and gone: who knows how the roster is looking by this stage...
If it’s worse than it is now, as we all expect, that month of March is going to be horrible, though Phoenix at home could be fun?
And, finally, April:
Home games: 3
Road games: 3
Strength of schedule: .53% (five current playoff teams)
A home-and-home against the Miami Heat and road games against the Wizards and the Celtics. Woof.
Though, the Celtics might be resting key players if they’re locked into a seed, and the Heat and Wizards could also find themselves in that situation. A long way to go before that, though. A home game against the Magic should be interesting but, in general, this is a tough way to end the month.
So, to close, the schedule is brutal as you can see, the Hawks are looking to trade some of their better players for assets (which basically means draft picks, and picks don’t play, players do) and younger players who are usually more prone to making errors, are going to seeing more minutes. When you go younger, you don’t normally get better.
Things may have gone well for the Atlanta Hawks recently but brace yourself: it could get very ugly from here on out.
Time will tell.