The Eastern and Western Conferences have been polar opposites this season, as the East has been a laughing stock while the West has proved to be the class of the NBA, and tonight’s game between the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns is the perfect example of a tale of two conferences.
The Hawks and Suns are both clinging onto the 8th and final playoff spot in their respected conference, however Atlanta represents the East and is five games under .500 while Phoenix represents the West and is 10 games over .500.
The free falling Hawks once held 3rd place in the East, but have lost 10 of their last 11 games, including six straight on the road and have sunk to the depths of the conference. Last month they suffered through an eight-game losing streak, their longest skid in nearly a decade.
On the other hand, the surging Suns have won four of their last seven games, including a dominating victory over Anthony Davis and the Pelicans on Friday in which Phoenix point guard Gordan Dragic scored a career-high 40 points.
Atlanta has lost 17 of 20 at Phoenix, and are in danger of tying their longest road losing streak in six years if they lose to the Suns Sunday night.
It won’t be easy for the Hawks to avoid that futile mark as they’ll be without their duo of frontcourt All-Stars Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Horford is out for the year after undergoing season-ending pectoral surgery on Dec. 31, while Millsap will miss his fourth straight game with a knee contusion.
It’s not even as if Atlanta could turn to their backups Gustavo Ayon and Pero Antic because they’re both injured as well. Ayon is also out for the year after having season-ending shoulder surgery on Friday, while Antic hasn’t played in four weeks since suffering a stress fracture in his right ankle. Although Antic might be close to a return after he was updated as day-to-day.
As a result of the numerous injuries, the Hawks have been relying on 6’9″ Elton Brand, who is in his 15th NBA season, to fill the void at center. They’ve also had to feature a “small-ball” lineup with 6’8″ small forward DeMarre Carroll moving up to the power forward position while either shooting guard Kyle Korver or backup Cartier Martin plays the wing.
After tonight’s game in Phoenix, the Hawks will be at Portland on March 5th followed by games against Golden State (March 7th), Los Angeles [Clippers] (March 8th) and Utah (March 10th). All four opponents, with the exception of Utah, are currently projected to make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.