The consensus holds that the Hawks are doomed to lose either to Cleveland or Orlando in Round 2, but if you’re the Cavs or the Magic do you really want to see this team in a best-of-seven? The Hawks finally broke through against Orlando last week, and they’ll have another chance at LeBron’s crew in Cleveland on Friday. And is there any better fortification for a trip to Quicken Loans Arena than a 17-point drubbing of the defending champions?
The Hawks are 5-5 against the other three elite teams in the East. They are 6-4 against the top five teams in the West. This Hawks team has shown this year that they can compete with the elite teams in the NBA. I wouldn't bet my mortgage on the Hawks beating the Cavs or Magic in a seven game series, but that's because those are the two teams against which the Hawks have struggled the most. It's odd to say this because the West is significantly better than the East, but I'd feel better about the Hawks's odds if they were in the Western Conference playoffs.
John Hollinger notes that the Hawks took a step towards the #3 seed in the East:
For Atlanta, meanwhile, this was a big win in the race for the third seed in the Eastern Conference -- a race they must win outright since Boston, as a division champion, would get the nod in a tiebreaker despite Atlanta's winning all four games between the clubs.
Fortunately for the Hawks, it may not come down to that. While they face near-certain defeat in Cleveland on Friday, they play only two winning teams in the six games that follow before a season-ending game against a Cavs squad that probably will feature the likes of Jawad Williams and Danny Green instead of LeBron James.
Combined with Boston's loss to Oklahoma City, it puts the Hawks a game ahead of the Celtics, and Boston must also face Cleveland this weekend.
Given the Hawks' struggles against the Magic, the three seed isn't much better in terms of a second round opponent. However, avoiding the suddenly torrid Bucks would be nice. I'd be more interested in a series against Milwaukee than I would another slog against the Heat, but I'd rather play Miami.