The Atlanta Hawks made easy work of the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, delivering a beat-down in the City of Brotherly Love, 125-99. The impressive victory gives me the confidence to predict a playoff birth for the Hawks, who are now 24-21, tied for third in the NBA Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors.
After losing Josh Smith in free agency last summer, many did not give Atlanta a chance. Add on the loss of Al Horford for the season and the Hawks became an injured horse begging for a gun shot. But, instead of wallowing in the darkness, Atlanta took advantage of a weak East and now finds itself in the top four.
Barring a massive collapse and major turnarounds by some other clubs, Atlanta will be playing basketball in late April. The question is whether or not it can do any damage? The Hawks do not have a star player to lead the herd, their roster is mainly made up of solid role players who have found a way to win together. The lack of a leader or someone who can take over in a time of need will come back to haunt them in the postseason, especially when they encounter either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers.
The best case scenario for the Hawks is to earn the third or fourth spot for the playoffs, avoiding a first round matchup with both giants. That will give Atlanta the best chance of making the second round. Once in the East semis, Jeff Teague will need to step up big time if it even wants to compete with Miami or Indiana.
Obviously, the Hawks are not a championship contender, but they are a postseason reality. Everyone has already handed the East title to Miami or Indiana, but Atlanta is sneaking into the picture and no one should take it lightly. There might not be a Finals appearance in the near future, but the Hawks could become a headache for the Heat and Pacers.