The Atlanta Hawks have quietly kept under the radar this season while currently sitting in the sixth seed of the Eastern Conference. Having clinched a spot in the NBA playoffs already, the question now is who they will play in the first round?
If the playoffs started today, their first round matchup would be with the New York Knicks, who have been up and down this year but are still managing to lock into the three seed as it is.
Matching up with the Knicks, it will be crucial for them to do a couple things. First of all, Al Horford will have himself a heck of a time going against Tyson Chandler down low. Both have been solidly averaging double-doubles on the season this year. Horford has done more scoring; Chandler has been more of a force defensively.
With both Horford and Josh Smith manning the paint, the Hawks will look to have an advantage with two capable big men. Atlanta will have a tough time trying to slow down Carmelo Anthony, who has been spectacularly averaging 27.5 points per game this year. Anthony has been gold when called upon in times of desperation, proving he can make any shot on any given night. I wonder if the Hawks plan on matching up Smith against Anthony, rather than starting small forward Kyle Korver. Either way, Atlanta has their hands full with one of the league’s best players.
An interesting matchup would be point guards Raymond Felton and Jeff Teague going head to head. Neither have had anywhere near an All Star season, but both have been serviceable enough to get it done offensively. Teague has had the better season overall, putting up 14.8 points and seven assists on average. Felton is up there with 14 points per game and 5.6 assists. This might end up being the deciding matchup of the series if the other two cancel each other out with Atlanta having an advantage in the post and New York having the advantage on the wings with Anthony and Sixth-Man-of-the-Year candidate J.R. Smith who has had a career year so far.
If Atlanta were to advance past the Knicks, they would then take on the winner of the matchup between the two and seven seeds. At the moment, that would be either the Indiana Pacers or Boston Celtics. Either one of those opponents could end up being a very tough matchup for the Hawks. Indiana has been dominant this season in challenging the Miami Heat for the top spot in the East. Boston would be a problem due to the experience of their two very hungry veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
If they can squeeze by their second round matchup, they would find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals against a more than likely opponent in the Heat. There are absolutely more talented teams in the East than the Hawks, but they will need to use their advantages night-in and night-out if they want to get to the Finals.
The best recipe for success for the Hawks lies within their big men Horford and Smith. If Atlanta gets All Star worthy production from their front court, that’s a great start. They will need excellent play-out from Teague at the point and Korver will need to come in and knock down a few threes every game as well. You never know what will happen in the postseason, and Atlanta has the type of team that can make a run.