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Hawks have chance to make up ground in next 10 games

With 15 games remaining in the regular season, the Hawks insist they are not concerned with the standings.

The head coach and several players said Wednesday they remain focused on the immediate task at hand: to finish strong and maintain a high level of play going into the NBA postseason.

That may be true. But as Pacers coach Nate McMillan put it recently about scoreboard watching that goes on with players and coaches: “And you believe them?”

The Hawks (37-30) currently are fifth in the Eastern Conference. They trail the fourth-place Raptors by two games and hold the head-to-head tiebreak. They also trail the third-place Wizards by four games, the second-place Celtics by 4 1/2 games and the first-place Cavaliers by 7 1/2 games. The Hawks lead the sixth-place Pacers by three games.

A berth in the playoffs for the 10th straight season, the longest active streak in the East, seems assured with a magic number of 10 over the 35-loss Bulls, who are currently out of playoff position. Currently, there appears to be a Hawks-Raptors series in the first round.

However, if the Hawks are going to make up ground on the conference leaders, it will come in the next 10 games. The combined winning percentage of the upcoming opponents is a .406 (270-395). Only the Grizzlies, who the Hawks handily beat last week and play in Atlanta on Thursday, and the Wizards have winning records. Six of the games are on the road.

The Hawks have won three of their past four games and a loss the Spurs on Monday snapped a three-game win streak. Despite the loss, there were positives to take from the defeat. There were points driven home in a film session Wednesday.

“We’d like to be playing well,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of the goal for the season’s remaining month. “I think we are turning in a better direction. We watched the film from the San Antonio game and both teams played hard and did a lot of things well. They made a few more plays, a few more shots, but there are a lot of things that we can take on both sides that, if we play like that, we are doing things that are pushing us in the right direction.”

To be sure, Paul Millsap was still angered by the loss to the Spurs, who pulled away for a 107-99 victory after the Hawks had cut a 15-point deficit to a single point in the fourth quarter. However, there was more to it.

“I was (ticked),” Millsap said. “When you have guys who are still learning and growing, you have to look at the bigger picture. When you look at the film and see a lot of good things against a really good team, you take that from it.

“I feel like we are in a good place and know how to win games. I feel like the last game was a good indicator of how we can play against a really good team. If we play that way for the rest of the year, we’ll be good.”

The Hawks finish the season with a tough five-game stretch that consists of the Cavaliers (twice), Celtics, Pacers and Hornets.

Budenholzer admitted that he’s looked at the standings enough to know the Raptors lie just ahead and a goal would be to take home-court advantage.

First things first. Keep up the recent good play, no matter the record of the upcoming opponent.

“Just keep this momentum going,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “We’ve won three of the last four games. We’ve been competing on both ends of the floor in every single one of those games. If we keep building on that, limit our mistakes on the defensive end, limit our mistakes on one or two possessions here and there, whether it’s turning the ball over or taking a charge, creating less offensive rebounds for the other team, we’ll be in great shape.”


Date Opponent Record

Thursday vs. Memphis 37-30 (.552)

Saturday vs. Portland 29-37 (.439)

Monday at Charlotte 29-38 (.433)

Wednesday at Washington 41-25 (.621)

March 24 at Milwaukee 32-34 (.485)

March 26 Brooklyn 12-54 (.182)

March 28 Phoenix 22-45 (.328)

March 29 at Philadelphia 24-43 (.358)

April 1 at Chicago 32-35 (.478)

April 2 at Brooklyn 12-54 (.182)

Total 270-395 (.406)

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