The NBA playoffs are shaping up for your Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks are very close to having what they want: The No. 3 seed in the East and a weakened opponent in Round 1. All they have to do is beat the NBA’s best team here Wednesday and root for Miami to beat the NBA’s worst team the same night.

Wait. It gets better. The NBA’s best team — that’d be LeBron James’ bunch — hasn’t used its best player the past three games. LeBron has been resting. But he might play against the Hawks.

As Brian Windhorst writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cavs haven’t yet decided who’ll work Wednesday night. From Windhorst:

There is some temptation for [coach Mike] Brown to reassemble his entire starting lineup to attempt to find some rhythm before the start of the playoffs. That would include James, who has been inactive for the last three games.

It would be a good test especially against the Hawks, a potential playoff opponent who will want to win the game to secure their own playoff seeding. Brown has only been able to use his complete starting lineup with [a just-cleared-to-play Shaquille] O’Neal and Antawn Jamison twice and just once did it last a full game.

But the concern over last-minute injury still seems to be weighing on Brown’s mind and for that reason he doesn’t seem committed to attempting to test out the new/old look. Even if it could mean a smoother start to the postseason when the Cavs would be playing lineups not used to each other.

“Part of me says yes,” Brown said. “Part of me says it is the last game so are we really going to be much better come playoff time if we played in the last game together.”

The Hawks need only to stay ahead of Boston to clinch the No. 3 seed. If Boston loses in Chicago tonight, that would settle it. Otherwise the Hawks would have to beat Cleveland or hope Milwaukee wins in Boston on Wednesday. The prize for landing the No. 3 seed is self-evident: You wouldn’t have to play LeBron’s crew in Round 2.

And the difference between having to face Miami or Milwaukee in Round 2 is now immense. Miami still has Dwyane Wade; Milwaukee no longer has Andrew Bogut. He suffered a broken arm April 3. He made the Bucks dangerous. But Milwaukee, which won its first four games post-Bogut, has since lost at home to both Boston and Atlanta, one of which it will face in Round 1.

The Heat has won 11 of 12 and is the team to avoid. The Hawks needed seven games, you’ll recall, to oust Miami from Round 1 a year ago, and the Heat beat the Hawks three times in four this season. But Miami pulled ahead of Milwaukee by winning in Philadelphia on Udonis Haslem’s basket with 1.3 seconds remaining Monday, the same night the Hawks handled the Bucks in Milwaukee.

Bottom line: This is all shaping up for the local NBA franchise. The Hawks should be able to beat Milwaukee in a maximum of five games, while another Miami series could turn into another seven-game slog. And how you fare in Round 2 can sometimes be traced to how long it takes to survive Round 1.

Case study: Last spring. Both Al Horford and Marvin Williams were hurt against Miami, and the Hawks limped into Cleveland — Game 1 was on Tuesday, two days after Atlanta eliminated Miami — in a weakened state. Then Joe Johnson got hurt in Game 2 and the Cavs’ sweep was all but ordained. With a bit more health and a tad more rest, the Hawks might have taken Cleveland to six games. They wouldn’t have won the series, but they’d have given a better account of themselves.

And now they’re positioned to avoid Cleveland in Round 2. I’ve gone back and forth over who would be the preferable Round 2 opponent, and a month ago I was thinking the Hawks would be better off facing the Cavs than Orlando. But I’ve changed my fickle mind, for two reasons:  The Hawks finally broke through and beat the Magic on Josh Smith’s dunk at the buzzer, and watching that game drove home a fairly basic point — Dwight Howard is really good, but he’s not LeBron.

As stout as they are, I still can’t see the Hawks beating LeBron’s team four times in a best-of-seven. But I could see them beating Dwight’s.

116 comments Add your comment

BigDawg

April 13th, 2010
9:33 am

KC in Smyrna

April 13th, 2010
9:36 am

The big difference in Cleveland and Orlando: The Cavs know Lebron is the best player. The Magic are taking turns trying to prove that Dwight Howard isn’t.

I’ll take choke-weary “Wince” Carter in round 2 any day over King James.

Joey

April 13th, 2010
9:37 am

Hope Crawford’s toe gets okay in a hurry. We won’t get past the first round without him.

Mark Bradley

April 13th, 2010
9:40 am

I’m not sure Orlando is as good as it was last season, KC. I’m not big on Vince Carter.

KC in Smyrna

April 13th, 2010
9:40 am

Oh yeah, In round 1. I think Miami can beat Boston and give Cleveland all they can handle. A Lebron/Wade playoff series would put the refs in a bad position. Their whistles would spontaneously combustion from the pressure of protecting 2 players on opposite teams. Then we get the ready-made storyline for the offseason, “Will Lebron/Wade be teammates next year?”

The Hawks can have a nice and boring 5 game series against the Bucks and rest up for all I care. Get in, Get out, and move on to the next foe. No more of this 7 game Round 1 garbage.

Joey

April 13th, 2010
9:44 am

Mark, being that the Hawks and Cavs could make the Eastern Finals, are you already working on your City of Cleveland tweak?

Mark Bradley

April 13th, 2010
9:46 am

I’m giving it some thought. Thanks for asking, Joey.

Give the man some credit

April 13th, 2010
9:47 am

Here’s to hoping Joe likes what he sees in the playoffs and doesn’t jump ship this summer.

SOUTH GA DAWG GAN

April 13th, 2010
9:48 am

if the hawks and the celtics finish with the same record , who gets the 3 seed ? does head to head not decide the tiebreaker? the best the celtics can do is tie the hawks for 3rd right ?

Joey

April 13th, 2010
9:49 am

Celts get it for being div champ.

**Frederick(Bailey) Douglass

April 13th, 2010
9:52 am

The Hawks.

Well, despite inept coaching (THIS IS THE ATLANTA BASKETBALL COACH TO GO AFTER), the Basketaball Birds have a shot to make some noise in the NBA tourney. A couple of ideas:

(1) There is a direct, inverse statistical correlation between Josh Smith’s jumpshots and Hawks victories. He has been doing a great job of controlling his part of the variance that explains stupid losses…continue your work Josh.

(2) Crawford will need to be $$ for this team to be effective. Marvin Williams should start games and…promptly exit. This is the playoffs.

(3) I’d like to see a little fire from Joe this post-season. He needs to actually act like the leader of this team. Get in people’s faces…fire ‘em up a little bit. This is your job.

(4) Horford has been doing a nice job, but I need him to man-up this postseason. No whining after hard fouls. Talk to Zsa Zsa about courage…get mean man

(5) Limit the number of fade-away jumpers and committ to taking it to the hole. Hawks are a decent free-throw shooting team. Get physical, put on your thigh pads on and take it to the rim. Period.

(6) You need Joe Smith and Mike Bibby…but not against the Bucks. Woody, make sure that they are healthy for the series against the Magic.

…more later.

FBD

Andy

April 13th, 2010
9:52 am

I’m with KC–get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?

Brian

April 13th, 2010
9:53 am

Key thing is a seven game series..Im sorry but I think Orlando is a better team in a seven game serious than Cleveland. The Hawks in my mind would fair much better against Cleveland than Orlando. The Magics arent as good as last year..but the Cavs with Shaq on the floor makes them beatable for the Hawks..records doesnt matter when your in the playoffs..in a seven game series Lebron will tire if the Hawks play to their young athletic strength. I dont think I can say the same about Howard and the Magics..seeing as he doesnt have to bring the ball up the court and score 40 for them to win.

northside

April 13th, 2010
9:54 am

yeah but boston would get the 3 because they are gonna win there divsion and the hawks wont because of orlando of course

Mark Bradley

April 13th, 2010
9:56 am

As long as the Hawks finish ahead of the Celtics — Boston wins a tiebreaker because of its division title — the Hawks will be the No. 3 seed.

northside

April 13th, 2010
9:57 am

I think we have a better chance vs the magic just because we cant stop LeBron as we have proved over the last 2 years so we have to out score them but even tho we cant stop dwight howard either, the magic often forget he is inside and i think in a high scoring series vince carter and comp will jack up 3’s not pound it down low

northside

April 13th, 2010
9:59 am

and as we all know there is no way in hell lebron wont have the ball every time the cavs need a big basket but orlando we cant say dwight will

Realist

April 13th, 2010
10:02 am

The Hawks won’t beat EITHER Cleveland or Orlando, so this is all moot.

Mike Woodson

April 13th, 2010
10:03 am

I won’t have to use my coaching skills till the second round

fudd21

April 13th, 2010
10:07 am

northside,
If the Hawks finish with a better record than Boston, then they (Hawks) would get the 3 seed. If both the Hawks and Boston finish with the same record then Boston would get the 3 seed by virtue of being a division winner. In that scenario being division winner trumps head to head.

Whopper Dawg

April 13th, 2010
10:19 am

Mark,

Thanks for the update. That means one thing and only one thing for sure. The Hawks will open with Miami.

Whopper

Bill W.

April 13th, 2010
10:20 am

Would rather face Orlando. No chance vs. the Cavs especially since Lebron have the refs in his pocket.

moorman

April 13th, 2010
10:26 am

these are the hawks. lol 40 years and no eastern conference finals. david sterns gonna keep it that way. when the playoffs start, watch how the refs start calling fouls on josh smith and disrupt the hawks.

Matt

April 13th, 2010
10:27 am

Mark, truly elite playoff teams DON’T lose to teams like the Sixers and other dregs of the league. Yes, 50 wins is nice, but I don’t see anything about this team that leads me to believe that they will get past the second round. (Aren’t they something pitiful like 1-7 against the Cavs and Magic?)

Najeh Davenpoop

April 13th, 2010
10:28 am

Agree completely with this article. A 3-6 matchup with the Bucks is the ideal scenario. Unfortunately, the Celtics have two winnable games left and the Hawks have a tough one. The schedule favors the Celtics getting the #3 seed. Hopefully for the Hawks, the Bulls pull it out tonight against Boston so that tomorrow’s game against the Cavs doesn’t affect seeding.

cdog

April 13th, 2010
10:28 am

mark what are the dates for the start of the playoffs? there is no easy opponent in the playoffs.the hawks must be ready to play regardless of the opponents.

Najeh Davenpoop

April 13th, 2010
10:30 am

Agree completely with this article. A 3-6 matchup with the Bucks is the ideal scenario. Unfortunately, Boston has two winnable games left and the Hawks have a tough one. The schedule favors the Celtics getting the #3 seed. Hopefully for the Hawks, the Bulls pull it out tonight against Boston so that tomorrow’s game against the Cavs doesn’t affect seeding.

Mark Bradley

April 13th, 2010
10:35 am

Playoffs will start Saturday or Sunday.

Ted M

April 13th, 2010
10:55 am

Cleveland does not need to get their starting line up straight against the Hawks on Wednesday. They can do that against the 8th seed in the first round of the playoff.

LeBron sits tomorrow.

JASon

April 13th, 2010
11:04 am

The bucks are 25-11 since February. Explain to me how that is weakened.

Mark Bradley

April 13th, 2010
11:05 am

Uh, the Bucks just lost their best player. That’s weakened.

Ree Roe

April 13th, 2010
11:21 am

Good article Mark. You could have also mentioned how a potential BOS/CLE 2nd round series would be intriguing since BOS is 2-2 vs. CLE & could beat CLE in a playoff series. The potential of seeing BOS in a conference finals would be thrilling & we would have home court

-REElated to Roe!!!

Mark Bradley

April 13th, 2010
11:23 am

Boston can’t beat Cleveland. I’m not sure the Celtics will beat the Heat.

mountain_jim

April 13th, 2010
11:24 am

I agree that we can’t beat Labron and the NBA and the refs who all want him and his team in the finals. Labron gets every call, every time. It is as if he owns the league.

Mark Bradley

April 13th, 2010
11:25 am

One thing, though: If the NBA fixes games so LeBron’s team wins, why did the Magic beat Cleveland in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals?

Dr. Warren

April 13th, 2010
11:30 am

Najeh–I don’t see Boston beating the Bulls in Chicago. The Bulls are fighting for their playoff lives. Nonetheless, the Hawks need to beat the Cavs/Lebron at home to see that beating Cleveland is possible.

Shane

April 13th, 2010
11:30 am

One thing, though: If the NBA fixes games so LeBron’s team wins, why did the Magic beat Cleveland in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals?

Steve Javy wasn’t available. Seriously they may not do it anymore but I refuse to believe something wasnt up for that Kings Lakers series years ago, A blind man watching could tell something was wrong. I think the Lakers shot something like 40 free throws in the fourth quarter to stay alive.

Bill E. Night

April 13th, 2010
11:32 am

We need Shelden Williams to win this thing.

Shane

April 13th, 2010
11:33 am

On the court, the games between the two teams were definitely intense, culminating in the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals, which featured Robert Horry’s famous last-second three-pointer to beat the Kings in Game 4, a 1 point Kings win off a Bibby field goal with 8 seconds left in Game 5, a controversial Game 6 where the Lakers shot 27 fourth quarter free-throws resulting in a narrow Laker win, and finally a Game 7 with 19 lead changes and 16 ties producing a Lakers overtime win on the road. Many consider the series to be among the greatest in NBA history.

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy has contended that two of the three referees for Game 6 of the series called fouls in favor of the Lakers in order to send the series to a deciding seventh game. He claims these two officials believed it was in the best interest of the NBA to have the Western Conference Finals extend to seven games, and they officiated accordingly. NBA commissioner David Stern has denied the allegations.

Shane

April 13th, 2010
11:34 am

I mean cmon 27 free throws in the fourth quarter? Really? 27? And we are supposed to bite into that turd sandwich. No thanks.

EW

April 13th, 2010
11:37 am

Jamal Crawfords instant offense will be missed if he’s not 100% soon…let’s hope we are as healthy as we can be….We NEED this win tonight..regardless of who it means we play or what anyone else does, team morale will be better if we know we can take the 3 with a win and go out and do it.

Knockahoma

April 13th, 2010
11:38 am

Speaking of a turd sandwich. It’s almost time for this intern to be sent to pick up lunch for the boss. Glad he already filled out the final evaluation. HAHAHAHA

Shane

April 13th, 2010
11:39 am

And another thing about Tim Donaghy, can you imagine if that had happened in baseball. There would have been congressional hearings. Meanwhile the NBA has a referee in the last few years who admitted to cheating and nothing really changed. Where there is smoke ……

EW

April 13th, 2010
11:39 am

We can beat Orlando if we defend the 3 point line and get DH into foul trouble. He’s going to get his double double either way, we have to D up everyone else.

All I'm Saying Is...

April 13th, 2010
11:47 am

Shane: You may be right but I think you should let it go—2002 NBA Western Conference Finals? Really? You’re seriously still worked up about that? Refs definitely favor superstars in the NBA because that’s who people paid to see play so its rare any of them will foul out and that of course can affect the outcome of games but please let’s not waste more time rehashing a Sacramento Kings loss — I mean I know you are using that one to make a point but who cares?

With respect to the Atlanta Hawks: Ideal scenario is having Bucks as first-round opponent with Celtics losing to the Heat. Not sure if the NBA Office can make that happen for us but that would be sweet.

I agree that Chicago can beat the Celtics because the game is more important to Chicago than the C’s.

I don’t see LeBron playing against the Hawks—imagine the crap that their coach would get if King James sustained any kind of injury. More likely that Shaq and Antwan Jamison get quality minutes for a half and then sit.

LET’S GO HAWKS!

EW

April 13th, 2010
11:49 am

Shane, the whole conspiracy theory is tired and old. In any sport, referees’ will have SOME bias..the good ones don’t let that bias come into play very often, but they are human…OTHERS however, do let that bias influence their actions and make emotionally charged or situationally charged calls. Tim Donaghy was a cheater, liar, and a disgrace. As is the case with others like him, he wants to bring down someone with him but there just is no evidence that can support his claims. I don’t know for a fact but he probably has a book out about the whole thing or whatever.

I will agree that stars get the calls…that’s just the way it goes…am I tired of seeing Lebron, Kobe, Wade, etc…cry for touch foul calls EVERY TIME down the court, YES I hate it! But as long as the refs have a bias that makes them call more fouls in favor of the stars they will continue to cry and probably keep getting them…but this isn’t a conspiracy, it’s just the way it is.

Mark Bradley

April 13th, 2010
11:51 am

I would agree that stars get calls. But LeBron’s team hasn’t yet reached the NBA finals, has it? So apparently he hasn’t gotten every call.

Ted M

April 13th, 2010
11:52 am

A month ago I did not think the Hawks would make it out of the first round. I am pretty confident they will now though.

Second round, unfortunately, not a chance.

Ted M

April 13th, 2010
11:54 am

unless…there are some huge upsets to the top seeds.

Sloan

April 13th, 2010
11:57 am

I love my hawks, but….

Cleveland is not worried about us at all. They will use us to build Shaq’s confidence for the finals.

Orlando probably wants us because Howard seems to depress our Bigs. It looks like it hurts to double team him and I think they are a better 3-point team than last year which is what will bury us.

If only we could play Boston….