The Atlanta Hawks host the Portland Trailblazers Friday in a game that carries much more meaning than a typical contest against one of the lower squads in the other conference. After clawing their way to the No. 5 seed — two games behind the Brooklyn Nets for homecourt advantage in the first round — the Hawks head toward a four-game road-trip that begins this weekend.
Facing Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard and Trailblazers frontcourt stalwart LaMarcus Aldridge will provide a tough challenge for Josh Smith and Co. in their own right on Friday, but Atlanta certainly could use the win before embarking on a tough road stretch that includes three teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Hawks Coach Larry Drew looked at the stretch run from a macro perspective following Atlanta’s win over the current eighth-seed Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.
“It won’t be easy from here on in,” Drew said of the Hawks’ final 14 regular-season games, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We have to understand that teams are going to play with a sense of urgency, particularly teams that are in the playoff picture, and we have to come out and return the favor. We can’t wait and allow teams to dictate the rhythm of the game.”
This critical stretch starts at Milwaukee (34-33, No. 8 seed) on Sunday, at the Indiana Pacers (42-26, No. 2 seed) on Monday, the non-contender Toronto Raptors on Wednesday and at the Boston Celtics (36-31, No. 7 seed) next Friday, March 29. With a mere 5.5 games separating the second and seventh seeds in the Eastern Conference, the stretch run grows even more critical for Atlanta.