The period after the All-Star break is one of my favorite periods of the NBA season. We know what teams are good, what teams suck and you have a frenzy of teams who are gunning for the playoffs/playoff seeding, potentially trying to implement exciting new pieces along the way. It’s this final run-in before the playoffs that I enjoy so much. Almost everyone has something to play/lose for.
And that brings me to today’s topic: how are the Atlanta Hawks looking heading into the last leg of the regular season?
The Hawks are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, sitting just half a game back of the Toronto Raptors, 2.5 games behind the Washington Wizards and four games back of the Boston Celtics for the second seed.
The Hawks haven’t played particularly great over the last few weeks and have pulled out games they had no right in winning (e.g. Houston). That said, the Hawks are right there in the mix for home court advantage despite not playing too well so it makes you wonder, if they did play well, how high in the standings this team could actually finish?
Everyone bar Tiago Splitter — of course — is healthy and ready to roll for the final run-in. Thabo Sefolosha has missed the last nine games with a groin injury but should be ready to go when the Hawks tip off again.
A player who is key to the Hawks’ second “half” of the season is Kent Bazemore. Bazemore showed signs of progression after regression in this last month-and-a-bit. Since January 1st, Baze has been averaging 11.7 PPG on 44.4% shooting from the field and 40% from behind the arc. Before the new year, Baze averaged 10 points on 36% shooting and and 27% from behind the arc, so Baze has turned a corner in some regards but still has room for improvement.
How about the schedule, how’s that looking for the Hawks?
Well, to start off, let’s take a look at the schedule for end of this month:
February schedule breakdown
Total games: 3
Home games: 1
Road games: 2
Teams above .500: 1
Teams below .500: 2
Strength of schedule: 48%
Not much to say here, just three games, two road games and one back-to-back sled. That Boston game at the TD Garden will be a very interesting game and it’s a game that Al Horford and the Celtics definitely have circled. The Hawks will have to bring their A-Game if they want to emerge from Boston with a victory. But don’t write off those two Florida games either. The Heat beat the Hawks pretty handily last time out and a game on the road in Orlando can be tricky. That said, the Hawks should win against those two Florida teams…
Let’s take a look at March’s sched.
March schedule breakdown
Total games: 16
Home games: 10
Road games: 6
Longest home stand: 6 games: March 1st – March 10th
Longest road trip: 3 games: March 20th – March 24th
Teams above .500: 8
Teams below .500: 8
Strength of schedule: 47%
The thing that stands out the most here is the Hawks’ six game home stand to begin this month. That said, they do play some very good teams in that stretch. The Cavs, even without Kevin Love, should never be taken lightly so long as LeBron James is on the floor, the Warriors are the Warriors, the Pacers have found form and are right there behind the Hawks in the standings as are the Toronto Raptors, now armed with Serge Ibaka.
Despite that home stand, this is a really tricky month for the Hawks. This will be their “now we’ll see who they really are” month. Cleveland, Indiana, Golden State, Toronto, @ Memphis, @ San Antonio, Memphis again, @ Charlotte, @ Washington and @ Milwaukee… Those are all tricky games in their own right and most of those games come one after another after another… There is at least some rest-bite for the Hawks though. They play the Brooklyn Nets twice at home, the Phoenix Suns at home — the Hawks’ final Western Conference opponent of the regular season — and, finally, the Sixers. An opportunity to make up for some losses there.
For the month of March overall, there’s a great challenge for the Hawks but also great opportunity. How will they respond?
And, finally, here’s April’s schedule:
April schedule breakdown
Total games: 7
Home games: 3
Road games: 4
Longest home stand: 2 games: April 9th – April 11th
Longest road trip: 3 games: April 1st – April 2nd
Teams above .500: 4
Teams below .500: 3
Strength of schedule: 52%
A home game against the Celtics, a home-and-away with Cleveland and a trip to Indy on the final day of the regular season are the main fixtures that stand out here. The Cavs could very well have the one seed locked up and may choose to rest players ahead of the playoffs, which is very possible given how many minutes LeBron James has logged this season. That Hornets game should also prove to be a challenge, I’m sure they’ll be locked in a playoff race too. To be fair, every game at this stage is so important and all of these teams, bar the Brooklyn Nets, will have something to play for.
Post All-Star break schedule breakdown
Total games: 26
Home games: 14
Road games: 12
Longest home stand: 6 games: March 1st – March 10th
Longest road trip: 3 games: March 20th – March 24th & March 29th – April 2nd
Teams above .500: 13
Teams below .500: 13
Strength of schedule: 49%
The Hawks need 16 wins out of these last 26 games to match their record from last season (48-34). That means they’d have to go 16-10, which is definitely possible given their strength of schedule. The Hawks’ strength of schedule stat is somewhat inflated by three games against the Cavs (70% winning record), the Warriors (84% winning record) and the Spurs (77% winning record) as well as two games against the Celtics (64% winning record). And, despite this, the Hawks are tied with the Spurs at 28th/29th for strength of schedule — tied for the second easiest.
That period from March 3rd to March 16th is brutal, but if the Hawks can utilize home court, make the most of that six game home stand, they have a great chance of taking home court advantage to the ATL.
This team has another level in them, a level we saw earlier in January. They can play much better and they know this too. A health Sefolosha, and a productive bench behind Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and the ever improving Dennis Schröder and Tim Hardaway Jr. certainly have the potential to fire the Hawks to home court advantage.