Archives For Playoffs

(stats courtesy of NBA.com)

It’s a secret to no one that Paul Millsap is absolutely key to the Atlanta Hawks and any playoff run they hope to have. But he’s had to carry a very heavy burden this season…

Paul is averaging a career-high 18.1 points per game this season but you’d know, if you’ve watched the Hawks on a regular basis this season, that Millsap is the only consistent offensive player for the Hawks. Dennis Schröder is somewhat consistent but when he’s off…he’s really off. Tim Hardaway Jr. can bring the fire but he can be a little streaky — feast or famine, to an extent. Kent Bazemore has been extremely inconsistent this season whilst Thabo Sefolosha isn’t asked to score a whole lot and has struggled shooting the ball this season. Dwight Howard, meanwhile…the less said about Dwight’s offense the better.

When the Hawks have struggled on offense in games they dial-up Paul Millsap, and he’ll — more often or not — make something happen. Whether that’s outright scoring himself, get to the free throw line or make a play for someone else…Millsap just makes things happen for the Hawks. He makes them tick.

As we know, Millsap plays more than one side of the ball unlike the Hawks’ other offensive players, like your THJ’s and Dennis Schröder’s, whose defense often leaves a lot to be desired. Paul has been tasked — and has also asked in some cases — to check the opposing team’s best small forward/power forward and even center. In a game against the New York Knicks and where Carmelo Anthony is on fire, Millsap guarded him down the stretch and did a wonderful job, coming up with multiple, huge defensive stops.

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During Game 1, Celtics guard Avery Bradley suffered a hamstring injury mid-way through the fourth quarter. He tried to walk off the court by himself but was unable to do so, needing help to get back the Celtics dressing room.

The diagnosis, as given by head coach Brad Stevens, the following day was the one Celtic fans feared — Bradley is doubtful for the remainder of the series.

“The update on Avery is Avery has a pretty significant strained hamstring. I would say would be doubtful for any of the remainder of the series, certainly very unlikely Tuesday night (for Game 2). As of right now I would say he’s out Tuesday night, but obviously he’ll continue to get treatment around the clock and go from there. So I would say very unlikely the rest of the series.” — Coach Brad Stevens

Devastating news for the Celtics, but what does it mean for the series going forward?

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Every October, 30 NBA franchises (well, 29, discounting the Sixers who have no interest in the playoffs right now) begin a journey, a journey whose destination lies in the form of post season basketball, the playoffs – the pinnacle of professional basketball. The place where champions are crowned and legends are made. Only 16 teams will arrive at this destination come mid April. And out of those 16 teams, only eight of them – four East, and four West – will begin their playoffs journeys at home. The opportunity to play the first two games of a seven game series (at least in the first round of the playoffs) at home. The home fans cheering, feeding, and fueling their team with their energy and excitement, hoping they can use it to gain an advantage. This, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is known as home court advantage – something many teams strive for throughout the regular season in order to give themselves the best chance of success in the playoffs.

The Atlanta Hawks are one of the four teams in the Eastern Conference to secure home court advantage, thanks to the Boston Celtics’ loss against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night. Who they will face in the first round is unclear, that is to be determined on the final night of the regular season, tonight. They could face anyone of the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, or Boston Celtics.

But the objective of the Hawks’ season is not just to make the playoffs, nor to win just one playoff series and crash out in round two, happy with one playoff series win. I mean, that’s fine if you’re one of the lower seeds like the Detroit Pistons, but this Atlanta Hawks team is beyond that point in their journey. They are a team stacked with many veterans who have tasted the playoffs on many, many occasions (this current Hawks roster combine for 568 playoff games), and one playoff series win/getting KO’d in round two this season simply wouldn’t be good enough – especially for a team who made the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

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It was announced last weekend that Mike Scott will miss 4-6 weeks (the remainder of the regular season, possibly into the beginning of the NBA playoffs) with a broken toe on his left foot. Thabo Sefolosha is close to returning from a calf strain that he suffered January 30th against Portland. The Hawks don’t plan on bringing back 10-day contract signee Jarell Eddie and instead have signed Austin Daye to the same short-term deal.

Coach Mike Budenholzer has been resting starters on a game-by-game basis, preparing for a run deep into the playoffs. They seem content on using the players they have and not any major outside help, as shown with the silent trade deadline last month.

But with all of this talk of injuries and sitting starters, don’t you still feel good about these Hawks?

Compared to last season, the Hawks are a completely different squad – except for the fact that they really aren’t. Sure, they signed Kent Bazemore and the aforementioned Sefolosha. Yeah, they’ve had time to gel and find more of a rhythm in Coach Bud’s offense. Sure, they are winning games at a much higher clip this season. But, the biggest change this season – something that seemed so great earlier on in the year – was the health.

Here they are, sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference on the ides of March and they have had only had one major injury to this Mike Scott announcement. Look at the rest of the conference – the rest of the league, for that matter – and you see key players going down.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were without LeBron for eight games at the turn of the new calendar year. Kevin Love has been in and out of the lineup with back issues. The Raptors missed DeMar DeRozan during the month of December. The Pistons lost Brandon Jennings for the season to an Achilles injury. Blake Griffin was out of the Clippers’ lineup for a little over a month. Wesley Matthews is no longer a factor for the Trail Blazers due to a season-ending torn Achilles. Paul George hasn’t played for the Pacers this season due to the gruesome leg injury suffered while playing for Team USA last summer.

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As we reach the end of the season the bottom half of the Eastern conference is in a tight race. The Nets have been pulling away as of late, but they aren’t out of the woods yet. The Wizards are holding on to that 5-6 range for dear life and the Bobcats are making a mad push for the sixth seed.

But where does this leave Atlanta? Currently at the bottom of the East playoffs in that eight spot. It’s possible with the team finally healthy (when Korver gets back into the lineup) they will make a run at a higher seed. I decided to take a look at their remaining schedule, along with everybody else in the 5-7 slots, to see how they might finish position wise.

Ground rules:

I will use my judgement to try and figure out who I think should win the game based on factors such as skill, being on a back to back, and home/away.

Games between Atlanta, Charlotte, Brooklyn, and Washington will use a 1-10 number generator: 1-5 is a win and 6-10 is a loss. For the Hawks, I rolled on them. For other games, I rolled on the home team.

If there are extraneous circumstances then I will consider those. For instance, Atlanta had a back to back where they had to play in Charlotte then go back home to Atlanta. That’s a 40 minute plane flight, not the roughest travel for the Hawks.

Remember this is all in a vacuum under a certain set of rules to try and look at the remaining schedules. The intent is to give us an idea of how the season might finish out. I am not saying this is how it will end or if this is how I think it will end.

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