LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When I visit the Braves in spring training, I generally like to stick to writing about, well, the Braves. But after watching the Hawks make the Orlando Magic (22-38) look like some semblance of a playoff contender Saturday night, two questions came to mind:
• 1) Is there a chance the Hawks miss the playoffs? (Answer: yes.)
• 2) Would the Hawks be better off if they miss the playoffs? (Answer: maybe.)
Let's take the first question: After coming out of the All-Star break with ugly losses to Miami and Orlando, the Hawks (32-26) are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, four games ahead of No. 8 Detroit and 5½ up on No. 9 Miami (whom they lost to 108-90 at home in their first game after the break).
That's not comforting, especially considering they have an overall negative point differential of minus-1.1, which ranks 11th in the Eastern Conference. They've also played a schedule that ranks only 27th out of 30 NBA teams in overall strength, according to TeamRankings.com.
Included in the Hawks' final 24 games are three against Cleveland, two against Boston, one each against Golden State, San Antonio, Toronto and Washington and two against Memphis. Their next five games: at Boston, home against Dallas (easy), Cleveland, Indiana and Golden State.
Their final five games of the regular season, when theoretically they might be fighting for a playoff berth: Boston, at Cleveland, Cleveland, Charlotte, at Indiana.
Still believe making the playoffs is a certainty?
Now to the second question: Would the Hawks be better off making or missing the playoffs. You can make a case either way.
Advantages to making the playoffs: Ownership gets revenue from at least two home playoffs dates and whatever cache goes with saying the Hawks made the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season. When they try to convince free agents to come to Atlanta, they don't have to counter the, "But you didn't even make the playoffs last year" argument. But I would debate how attractive a team making an early postseason exit is to free agents, and certainly the Hawks project as an early exit team.
Advantages to missing the playoffs: The most obvious is the Hawks become a lottery team and are assured of a higher draft pick. This, combined with the other picks they have compiled in the next five drafts, could provide them with more leverage in trade talks. A case also could be made that missing the playoffs would send a stronger message to ownership that change must come in organizational structure and front office positions. But it's difficult to guarantee that because nobody is certain how majority owner Tony Ressler's feels about the team's front office.
Basketball Reference projects the Hawks to go 11-13 in their final 24 games and finish with a record of 43-39, fifth in the East. But of these likely potential playoff opponents -- Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Washington, Chicago, Indiana -- how many do you see the the Hawks beating?
I've included two polls if you want to weigh in.
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