Hawks on track to claim final playoff spot in the East
Posted: Wednesday March 26, 2008 12:23PM; Updated: Wednesday March 26, 2008 12:23PM
The Western Conference might be where all the excitement is these days, but that doesn't mean the East is devoid of drama. Four teams from the NBA's junior varsity -- the Hawks, Nets, Pacers and Bulls - are battling it out for the eighth and final playoff spot (and the right to get crushed by the Celtics in the first round).
So which team will it be? Let's just say the folks in Atlanta might soon be able to put away the paper bags.
Yes, Hawks fans, your eight-year playoff drought -- longest in the NBA -- could be about to end.
Of course, this is the Hawks we're talking about here, and it's hard to trust a team that has gone only 15-27 in 2008. In fact, through Tuesday the Nets were just a half game behind Atlanta, and they own the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 3-1. (The Pacers trailed by 1½ games and the Bulls were two games behind the Hawks.)
The Hawks sure didn't look much like a playoff team Tuesday night in Chicago. Given a chance to deliver perhaps a mortal blow to a struggling foe, they instead came out flat and allowed the Bulls to rack up 19 offensive rebounds (leading to a 20-8 edge in second-chance points) in a 103-94 loss. They also fumbled away several scoring chances under the basket.
"It's a big disappointment," Hawks guard Joe Johnson said. "It seems like we didn't have any energy tonight. We came out lackadaisical."
But in the sad state of the East, the Hawks still should win the No. 8 spot by default. Despite their dud performance Tuesday, they've still won four of their last six games. Mike Bibby has given them an experienced QB and three-point shooter to spread the floor, and Johnson has been heating up (25.5 points this month).
The Hawks are the hungriest team in this race. The Nets, Pacers and Bulls all have seen better days. They know their seasons are going to end in disappointment no matter what. For Atlanta, making the playoffs at least would represent progress.
The Hawks' remaining schedule gives them a bit of an edge, too. Here's a look (with help from the old SI.com crystal ball) at how this little taffy pull among East lightweights should play out.