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The Atlanta Hawks are about to face a five-week gauntlet

Tough sledding for a while.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After 11 games, the Atlanta Hawks sit with a 3-8 record and, given preseason chatter around the league, that 22-win pace is at least reasonably in line with where many projections were in early October. With that said, the Hawks have operated without one of their top players in John Collins and the team is regularly deploying three rookies, in addition to a first-year head coach in Lloyd Pierce, leaving some room for optimism as the program grows.

Obviously, it is far too early to make any sweeping judgments about what has transpired, aside from the fact that Atlanta probably isn’t making an unexpected playoff run. Still, there is an interesting dynamic looming and it comes in the form of the team’s schedule.

At some point in the near future, all signs point to Collins returning the floor and, unquestionably, the team will be improved when he arrives. However, Atlanta’s strength of schedule has been the easiest in the entire NBA to this point and that has to be noted.

The Hawks have faced only three teams with winning records (Memphis, Philadelphia, Charlotte) and each contest featured a double-digit loss. That trend may not continue but, beginning on Friday (and, really, on Sunday), things become more difficult for Atlanta, with a five-week scheduling gauntlet in which the team does not project as the “favorite” in a single game.

Let’s take a look at what is on the horizon.

The Appetizer

  • Hawks vs. Pistons (Nov. 9)

If we’re being honest, this isn’t all that difficult of a match-up. The Pistons are sitting with a .500 record but Detroit has lost five of six and is anything but a lock to reach the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The difficult portion of the schedule really kicks up beginning on Sunday but, in short, the Hawks won’t be favored to beat Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and company in this spot.

The West Coast Trip

  • Hawks at Lakers (Nov. 11)
  • Hawks at Warriors (Nov. 13)
  • Hawks at Nuggets (Nov. 15)
  • Hawks at Pacers (Nov. 17)

Here is where things could fly off the rails. As noted above, Collins could conceivably return during this four-game trip but, even if he does, Atlanta projects as a sizable underdog in every game. The Lakers feel “beatable” in the early going but, on the road against playoff-level teams, the going is tough for the Hawks, and that is doubly so given the magnitude of this road trip. Even stealing one game would feel like a victory.

A Holiday Homestand

  • Hawks vs. Clippers (Nov. 19)
  • Hawks vs. Raptors (Nov. 21)
  • Hawks vs. Celtics (Nov. 23)
  • Hawks vs. Hornets (Nov. 25)

The Hawks do return home for Thanksgiving week and four consecutive games in State Farm Arena could be nice for the home team. With that said, this is a very difficult slate, with the Clippers playing quite well in the early going, both Toronto and Boston poised for a run at the NBA Finals, and Charlotte at the end of the line. Young teams often fare better at home but it isn’t as if there are any projected wins here.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Three Game In Four Nights

  • Hawks at Heat (Nov. 27)
  • Hawks at Hornets (Nov. 28)
  • Hawks at Thunder (Nov. 30)

Woof. Teams hate playing three games in four nights and, this time, the entire trio is away from Atlanta. As with some of these games, it isn’t as if the opponents involved (especially the Heat and Hornets) are unbeatable by any means, but the Hawks will be fighting an uphill battle in each city, and doing so on short rest.

Hello, December

  • Hawks vs. Warriors (Dec. 3)
  • Hawks vs. Wizards (Dec. 5)
  • Hawks vs. Nuggets (Dec. 8)
  • Hawks at Mavericks (Dec. 12)
  • Hawks at Celtics (Dec. 14)

The end of the five-week stretch arrives in merciful fashion. Obviously, no one will project the Hawks to beat the Warriors (even in Atlanta), but a home against the struggling Wizards could be advantageous in some respects. Denver is playing top-shelf basketball, at least for now, and even a game against Dallas could be difficult considering the unfriendly venue.

Over the next five weeks, the Hawks will play 17 games and, in all likelihood, will enter each contest as the underdog in Las Vegas. It stands to reason that Trae Young and company will steal a few victories, simply because of the way the NBA schedule ebbs and flows, but this journey will tell the basketball world quite a bit about what Atlanta is actually capable of this season.

Buckle up and stay tuned.