With the regular season winding down rapidly, every remaining game for the Atlanta Hawks is a must-win game. They’re currently locked in a playoff scrap against the Milwaukee Bucks for the 5-seed, with the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers just 1.5 games behind the Hawks occupying the 7th, 8th and 9th seeds. Every game is so important. It is essential for the Hawks to avoid those 7 and 8 seeds. They should want absolutely no part of a round one series with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who could finish 1st or 2nd in the Eastern Conference.
But while the Hawks are furiously engaged in their own playoff race they are set to play a major part in another playoff race — the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are separated by just one game. With three meetings with these two contenders in the last five games of the regular season, no other team in the NBA has more of a say in who claims the top seed in the East than the Hawks do.
And it all starts on Thursday night when the Hawks tackle the Celtics — who are on the second night of a back-to-back having been blown out by the Cavs on Wednesday night — at Philips Arena in another throwback night, donning the Pete Maravich-era jerseys. The season series is tied 1-1 with the both teams winning games in each other’s building. While the Hawks shouldn’t settle a first round series against the Celtics (if that’s what it came to), the Celtics are probably the one team out of Cleveland, Boston and Washington that the Hawks would prefer to face in a round two matchup, should they get there.