Well, the Atlanta Hawks finally made it. 42 victories guaranteed the first winning season this for this ballclub in quite some time. How sweet it is. The Hawks have passed test one, which was to prove that they are true winners, by having a winning season. Now it’s time for test two. And three….
How far can this team go? Will they reach the magical mark of 50 wins? In the minds of some, the mark of 50 wins is the difference between the good and the even-better. It’s the next level. The border between the good and the elite. Or maybe it’s 55 wins. Who’s counting? Either way, 50 wins is an accomplishment. For the Hawks to accomplish this, they must win 8 of the last 11. So, this is test two, right? Wrong.
Test two is finishing out the season. Last year, the Hawks could have won more than 37 games. It is emminently debatable just how many they could have won, but suffice it to say that a .500 record was NOT out of the question. Would it have made a difference? Absolutely. Last year’s 7th seed was none other than the Philadelphia 76ers, who had 40 wins. Their playoff matchup? The Detroit Pistons. And the 6th seed turned out to be the Toronto Raptors, who drew the Orlando Magic as opponents. There is no denying that the Hawks matched up well with the Boston Celtics (at least at home), but a lesser team is a lesser team. Might the playoffs have been a little different for the Hawks had they been matched up with #2 or #3 seeds? Quite possibly, but we’ll never know, and there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk. So what is the point, you ask? Simple: the Hawks cannot let off the gas. They cannot cruise like they have nothing to lose. Because they do. It’s called momentum. It’s called a winner’s mentality. Slow down now, put it aside, and it will be hard to pick up for the playoffs. So test three must be getting those 50 wins, right? Wrong again. Test three is, however, linked to test two.
Test three is homecourt advantage. Much as we love them, we know the Hawks have trouble winning on the road. It’s been tough all year, and guess what? It gets harder in the playoffs. You think that crowd was loud back in January? You haven’t heard anything yet. But since last year’s trio of visits to Boston in the spring, the Hawks know about this. And they haven’t forgotten. There’s nothing like playing in your own backyard, with the home crowd cheering you on. It gives you energy. Every play good play brings a roar from the crowd, and the crowd hungers for more. That adds fuel to the fire. The fire of confidence and victory. Retaining the 4th seed in the playoffs all but guarantees the Hawks a matchup with the Miami Heat, as long as the Heat are able to hang in at 5th. Let off the gas, and that seed slips to 5th, or maybe 6th. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather Dwayne Wade and his crew come visit Phillips a possible four times, rather than let him play four times in front of that South Beach crowd.
So there it sits. The next two steps are the last two legs of the race. Will the Hawks push on through and do what needs to be done to retain their position, and homecourt advantage? Or will they take a few games off and rest up for the playoffs? Which would you rather see? Oh and that 50-win thing? Don’t sweat that 50-win thing. It’s not a test. It’s a bonus.