To borrow a line from Bob Uecker in the movie ‘Major League’: Hey, in case you haven’t noticed, and judging from the attendance you haven’t, the Atlanta Hawks have managed to win a few games and are threatening to grab home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks’ attendance is lousy, selling under 80% of their tickets at home, are one game away from grabbing home court advantage for at least one round in the NBA’s wide-open Eastern Division.
Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith (5) and Chicago Bulls small forward Jimmy Butler (21) may be friendly before the game, but they are battling to play at home in the first round of the playoffs. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY SportsThe Hawks sit at sixth in the Eastern Conference, seven and a half games behind division rival and Eastern Conference leader Miami Heat, but with eight teams from each conference making the playoffs, the top wildcard team from each conference gets home court for the first round. The Brooklyn Nets currently holds that position, but there are only three games separating the third seeded and central division leading Indiana Pacers and the sixth seeded Hawks.
While trade talks surround the Hawks, they are in the unique position of improving themselves not only for the future, but to make a late season push. There are 31 games left on the Hawks schedule, and while no one expects them to catch the Heat, they still have two against Brooklyn, who they trail by 1 game for the all-important fourth seed.
The schedule may set up nicely for the Hawks, with half of the remaining games coming against teams under .500 and three more against Milwaukee, who is just one game over that mark. This is great news for the Hawks, as they are 18-7 versus teams with losing records. Brooklyn has 29 games remaining, 17 of those on the road where they are exactly .500. The Nets also have just under half of their games left against teams under .500, which is where they have thrived, posting a 20-4 record. However, they have been just as dismal against teams above .500, only winning 11 out of the 29 match-ups.
The team that separates the Nets and Hawks in the standings is the Chicago Bulls. While the Hawks cannot make up ground by playing the team from the windy city, they do play 17 teams under .500 in their last 29 games, against whom they are an impressive 17-5. They do have a road heavy final portion of their schedule, but their road home splits are almost identical, so that is not a cause for concern for them. They also do not have a brutal set of games left this season, unlike Atlanta, who plays six road games in nine days crossing over from the end of February to the beginning of March. Brooklyn also has a similar stretch, playing over half of a month on the road, starting in the middle of March and ending April 3.
Heading into their last 31 games, the Hawks will have a great chance to pass, and eventually run away from, the Brooklyn Nets. The problem lies with the Bulls, whose schedule sets up a lot better down the stretch. Look for Chicago to grab the fourth and final home court spot, unless they pass the Pacers, in which case Atlanta’s hopes may still be alive.