• Joe Keller

No Respect for the Hawks

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*Photo via USA Today

The end of the NBA season is drawing near, with the playoffs around the corner, it’s the time of year to separate the contenders from the pretenders. It should be the norm that the team with the best record in the conference should be a definite contender for a championship, but never has there been a top seeded team getting less title attention than the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks are first in the East and have the second best record overall, so why is there so little talk about a Finals run for this squad? Is it because no one saw this coming, the Hawks were under .500 and the eighth seed last season, and while they forced the Pacers to a seventh game in the first round, no one had any reason to think they would be much improved with practically the same roster. Could the disrespect come from the fact they don’t have a star on their team? This team plays team basketball based on Mike Budenholzer’s system, which emphasizes spacing. The Hawks are not flashy but get the job done, shouldn’t that be enough to be discussed amongst the title contenders? To add insult to injury, when experts talk about the East the teams that mostly come up are Cleveland and Chicago, who are two and three respectively and eight games behind Atlanta. So the big question is this disrespect warranted or do the Hawks have a legit shot of getting out of the east.

The Hawks deserve to be mentioned more with the Cavs and Bulls as teams that can come out of the East. The top of the East is not as strong as the previous Heat dominated years. There are too many uncertainties to just hand the Eastern Conference crown to the Cavs or Bulls. The Cavs are playing some of the best basketball in the league of late, and have the best player in the world, who is very familiar with making late runs into June. However it is the lack of playoff experience for the rest of the team, and coach. The playoffs are a different animal and many of the Cavs major contributors lack playoff experience, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love haven’t played a minute of playoff basketball, and Kevin Love still hasn’t meshed well in Cleveland. That could be a problem come playoff time, not to mention their coach will be experiencing the playoffs for the first time. LeBron has the ability to carry the team through some struggles, and they do have veteran leadership on the bench, but it’s not a guarantee for the Cavs as many expect. Especially if the Bulls are healthy, the key word being if. All signs point to Derrick Rose being ready for the playoffs, and if he can be somewhat productive this would be my pick to make it to the Finals. The Bulls have the experience, talent and toughness to get them to the Finals, but you can never count on a fully healthy Bulls squad. With the uncertainties with Cleveland and Chicago listed above, I believe the Hawks have a shot of winning the East.

Their play this year makes them deserving of some more recognition, but like most people I’m leaning with the popular votes for the East winner. The Hawks have had a great season, and I’m a fan of their style of play, but I think come playoff time you need to have the one guy that can go and get you a big bucket when it matters, and I don’t believe the Hawks have that player. This is even more important for Atlanta because they are a mid-range and outside shooting team, so if they go cold from the field it could be a long night for them. Also while they have playoff experience, they don’t have late round experience, where things escalate. The Cavs and Bulls are the favorites, but the Hawks have surprised us all year, and are fully capable of surprising us some more by playing in June.

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