What Stephen Curry and the Warriors are doing out west has been amazing, but the most surprising story of this NBA season has been the Hawks.
Prior to the season, most people saw Atlanta spending another season battling for the eight-seed in the east, not blowing the competition out of the water. Sure, what the Warriors have done might be more difficult than the Hawks given the strength of the conferences, but just based purely on what has been the biggest shock of 2014-15, the Hawks take the cake.
The top seeded Hawks are nine games ahead of LeBron’s Cavs with two meaningless games left in the regular season. Their 60-20 record can be broken down even further to convince you that they should have success in the Eastern Conference playoffs — ATL is 38-12 against the east, and 35-5 on their home court.
The numbers may point to the Hawks coming out of the east, but when I use my head, I just can’t buy in for a couple of reasons.
For starters, the Hawks are simply trending in the wrong direction. They’ve continued to win games, but the reasons the team has been in the news lately are not good ones. There was the Chris Copeland incident in New York. Copeland, of course, is a member of the Pacers, but was at a club with Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic — two key reserves for the Hawks — who both wound up getting arrested. After seeing videos from others on hand, they probably were wrongly arrested, but it still creates a distraction.
Even worse, Sefolosha fractured his fibula at some point during the incident, and will now miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs. But the fluke injury — that the NBAPA seems to be rightly looking into — is not even the worst of the Hawks injury concerns.
Atlanta’s leading scorer and rebounder, Paul Millsap, has missed time due to a sprained right shoulder, and is yet to set a date for his return. Coach Mike Budenholzer has said that he expects Millsap back for the playoffs, but it’s certainly not a given. The Hawks could be in big trouble if they have to play any postseason games without arguably their best player.
But even beyond injuries and distractions, other teams in the east seem to be playing just as well, if not better than the Hawks. The Cavs have established themselves as the clearcut favorite since the All-Star break, however, the Hawks could find themselves in trouble earlier than a potential meeting with LeBron and company … like in the first-round.
The Celtics, Nets and Pacers — who sit in the 7-9 seeds in the east — have been three of the hottest teams in the east since the All-Star break as well. Although none of them have been as good as the Cavs, they’ve all been almost as good as the Hawks, maybe even better. The reason a team like Cleveland would figure to beat any of these teams in a seven-game series is their star power. Not just LeBron, but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are they types of singular talents that you want to have in the playoffs, even if both will be competing in their first postseason games. The Hawks simply don’t have that star power (and if you want to argue that they do, Millsap is likely the star). Their lack of an individual go-to scorer makes it tough to separate them from whichever team they wind up playing against in the first-round.
The Hawks had a fantastic season — the first 60-win season in franchise history. But when it comes to their playoff chances, sadly enough, getting out of the first-round might be a success.
Follow me on Twitter @julianedlow