ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks are chasing a top-six spot in the NBA playoffs, knowing that a repeat of their pace before the All-Star break won’t be good enough.
A year after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks feel the urgency to up their game in the final 24 games of the regular season. They travel to Chicago Thursday night to open a crucial four-game streak against teams ahead of them in conference playoff standings, including two against the Bulls.
A turbulent first half, filled with win-loss streaks, puts the Hawks (28-30) tied with Charlotte for ninth place in the conference. Atlanta is dangerously close to withdrawing from the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament.
The Hawks have won their last two games before the break, including a blistering 130-109 win at Orlando on March 16. The visit of the Bulls, tied for first place in the East, provides an opportunity to build momentum for a playoff push.
“We don’t have time to dig ourselves holes anymore,” guard Kevin Huerter said after practice Wednesday. “I think we’ve done that a few times this year where we’ve lost four or five games in a row and put ourselves in a really bad position. We don’t have time to do it. But if we can rack up some wins and put together a streak or two to finish the season, we’ll be where we need to be. »
Atlanta’s schedule after the All-Star break is tough. After hosting Toronto on Saturday, the Hawks travel to Boston on Tuesday before facing the Bulls again on March 3.
Before they can have a realistic chance of finishing above the cup for the qualifying tournament, the Hawks must avoid falling below 10th place.
“We’re only taking one game at a time,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “We know we’re going to have to put together a game streak with only 24 games left in the season. But again, speaking of which, we’re pretty much past that. We know what we have to do.
Mood because Hawks basketball is back tomorrow 😁 pic.twitter.com/q1u7kf35fX
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 23, 2022
The Hawks likely won’t have their full roster when they renew their playoff push. Forward John Collins has missed the last three games with a right foot injury. Collins was limited to shooting, with no runs, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Collins, who didn’t seem to favor the foot as he threw jumpers on Wednesday, was due to join the team for the flight to Chicago.
As always, the Hawks will rely on Trae Young, who is coming off his second All-Star start. Young’s 27.8 points per game rank fourth in the league. Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan is third at 28.1.
While defending NBA champion Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Brooklyn have captured the most national attention, the rise of teams such as Chicago, Miami and Cleveland is adding depth to the Eastern Conference. This increases Atlanta’s difficulty moving up the playoff standings.
“There’s pressure on every game from now on,” Huerter said. “Obviously we need wins. We’re not looking at the next four. We are looking at the next one.