Why the current New York trip guarantees the Atlanta Hawks will miss the play-in

The Atlanta Hawks have started the current three-game trip to New York City in the worst way, and they have almost guaranteed that they will miss the play-in.
Mar 2, 2024; Brooklyn, New York, USA;  Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton (33) dunks in the fourth
Mar 2, 2024; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton (33) dunks in the fourth / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks are about to enter the final quarter of their season. Unfortunately, the Hawks have not performed well enough for the first three quarters that there is much hope for them to win a title. In fact, with Trae Young being out for a month, their season is now effectively over.

However, this was not the case entering the current three-game New York trip. The first two game were against the Brooklyn Nets. The Hawks were embarressed in the first game, being jumped at the start, coming back near half time and then being blown away in the third period. The Hawks started the second game in the way you would want to see but lost their way in the second half.

This means that the Nets moved to within two games of the Hawks for the final play-in position. To get something out of the New York trip, the Hawks have to beat the fourth-placed New York Knicks which is a tough task and one that the Hawks have struggled with since their playoff series win in the 2021 NBA season.

So why was the New York trip pivotal to the Atlanta Hawks season?

At the time of writing, the Hawks have 22 games left of the 2023-24 season. Of those 22 games, 15 are against teams that are playoff or play-in bound. Of the other seven games, two are against the Charlotte Hornets, who are a bogey team for the Hawks. The hill seems too high to climb and the reward is too meagre for the Hawks to push too hard, especially without their best player.

Meanwhile, the 11th-place Brooklyn Nets only have 14 games against higher-ranked teams in their remaining 22. They also have the tiebreak of winning the season series against the Hawks if they finish on the same record. To put it bluntly, the Hawks are going to semi-tank to get a better draft position.

That is not to say that the Hawks are not going to try. They still need to showcase De'Andre Hunter, develop Kobe Bufkin and Bruno Hunter, as well as work on the chemistry between players for next season. There is still so much to get out of the season, even though there is no chance of them contending for a championship.

It should now be the job of coach Quin Snyder to instill into his players the attitude of moving forward toward next season. Heads need to stay up and players need to own the roles that get assigned to them. If there are any niggly injuries, then those players need to have a little bit of extra time on the sidelines to get them right so that the actual offseason is not wasted on rehabilitation.

The 2024-25 preseason starts now. Young has had his surgery so that he can be back, ready to go at the earliest convenience. Onyeka Okongwu is sitting out until his toe is right and then he can come onto the floor and work on aspects of his play in real gameplay. The future is now for the Atlanta Hawks, let us hope that they dare to embrace it.