Atlanta Hawks must focus on key matchups to avoid Play-In Tournament

Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

NBA All-Star Weekend is over and there are only a little over 20 games left in the season for the Atlanta Hawks. The team has relieved Nate McMillan of his head coaching duties, gathered back-to-back wins with interim coach Joe Prunty and has reportedly agreed to a five-year deal with former Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, who is supposed to be on the sidelines as soon as Tuesday against the Washington Wizards.

All of this is happening just as the Hawks are fighting to gain the sixth slot going into the playoffs so that they won’t be forced to participate in the play-in round and then face a top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Let’s put the coaching situation aside for now and take a look at what needs to be done to make this happen.

So far coming out of the break, Atlanta has won two pretty crucial games at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets. The next home game versus the Washington Wizards may be more critical than those as they are currently two and a half games ahead of the Wizards in the standings and are set to face them three more times down the stretch.

Other critical matchups for Atlanta include a back-to-back series on the road against the Miami Heat, who are a game and a slot ahead of the Hawks. Those games are followed by a back-to-back series on the road with the Wizards, so these next two weeks could be make-or-break.

Atlanta has another match-up against Brooklyn on March 31, which may be important as the Nets will probably be sinking in the standings without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Nets currently sit in the five-slot in the East.

To get out of the play-in tournament Atlanta is going to have to win the games that they are expected to win and those games include a game on the road against the San Antonio Spurs on March 19, followed by a home match versus the Detroit Pistons (on March 21) and later on March 25 there is a game against the Indiana Pacers. Atlanta can not afford to lose two of these games if they are going to solidify a spot in the top six.

Atlanta has nine games on the road during the remainder of the season and can not afford to be below average (14-18 is the Hawks’ current road record). They play 11 games against teams with winning records, so the team is going to have to play with playoff intensity for the remainder of the season.

If the Hawks are able to climb out of the play-in hole, they stand a decent chance of making it to the second round of the playoffs. Atlanta could be looking at a first-round pairing with possibly either Cleveland or the New York Knicks and neither of those teams should put any fear in Atlanta.

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Will the Hawks be able to make this climb up the ladder, into the NBA Playoffs and possibly the second round with a brand new head coach? With this team, anything is possible.