Some familiar faces stand in the middle of the Hawks’ path to the playoffs.
The team has five games remaining in the regular season, and four are against teams with a player that was in the Hawks’ starting lineup this time last year. Al Horford and the Celtics play at the Hawks on Thursday. Kyle Korver and the Cavaliers have back-to-back games Friday and Sunday. Jeff Teague and the Pacers are the final regular-season game next Wednesday. The Hawks’ final home game is against the Hornets the night before the finale.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he hasn’t given any thought to the familiar faces in the way of his team’s pursuit of a postseason spot and position.
“It just seems like it is par for the course in the NBA,” Budenholzer said. “Guys change teams and move. Obviously, a lot of respect for all three of those guys, but it’s pretty far from my train of thought.”
Not far from Budenholzer’s thoughts is the quest for the playoffs.
The Hawks (39-38) entered Wednesday sixth in the Eastern Conference. They trail the fifth-place Bucks by a half-game and lead the Bulls and Pacers by 1 1/2 games for the final two playoff spots. The Heat are two games behind the Hawks in ninth place.
Should the Hawks make the playoffs, they will open on the road, as they cannot move up higher than fifth place. An opponent, should the Hawks advance, could be any of the top four seeds — the Celtics, Cavaliers, Wizards and Raptors.
“For sure, we are going to make the playoffs,” Dennis Schroder said. “I’m pretty sure. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got to make it. We are going to make it.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Hawks. The playoffs once seemed a guarantee. They have twice lost seven consecutive games, including in a current stretch of nine losses in 11 games. There have been injuries as the team was without three starters for several games. The Hawks lost Paul Millsap (left knee synovitis) for eight games and Kent Bazemore (right knee bone bruise) for five. Thabo Sefolosha (right groin strain) remains out and will not play against the Celtics. There have been film sessions, including one Tuesday, to fix problems that have plagued the Hawks all season.
Enough is enough, Dwight Howard said.
“At this point, no more words that we can express,” Howard said Wednesday. “We’ve said everything. I have no words. … Actions. Just actions.”
Several Hawks players echoed the sentiments of teammates that the playoffs start now. There is weight on each and every game.
“You have to win every single one of the games to secure your spot,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “Anything can happen but we are definitely going into the last few games with a chip on our shoulder knowing we have to compete every possession because our season is on the line. We’ll go out there and try to win as many games as possible to secure a spot in the playoffs.”
The Hawks are trying to secure a postseason berth for the 10th consecutive season. They currently hold the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference and would very much like to add to it.
“We are trying to win,” Howard said. “There should be some pressure. That’s cool. We’ve been playing basketball long enough to know how important these games are.”
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF RACE
|5.||Bucks||40-38||10.5||at Pacers, at 76ers, vs. Hornets, at Celtics|
|6.||Hawks||39-38||11||vs. Celtics, at Cavaliers, vs. Cavaliers, vs. Hornets, at Pacers|
|7.||Bulls||38-40||12.5||at 76ers, at Nets, vs. Magic, vs. Nets|
|8.||Pacers||38-40||12.5||vs. Bucks, at Magic, at 76ers, vs. Hawks|
|9.||Heat||37-40||13||at Hornets, at Raptors, at Wizards, vs. Cavaliers, vs. Wizards|