The final seven games for the Atlanta Hawks will determine a lot for them as they head toward their sixth straight playoff appearance.
The Hawks are currently one game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the fourth seed in the East.
While it's almost a lock that the Hawks will play the Nets in the first round of the playoffs, home-court advantage is still up for grabs.
Having home-court advantage is an absolute must for the Hawks, who struggle mightily on the road. As of April 1, the Hawks were 18-20 on the road, compared to a 23-13 home record.
If Atlanta is able to gain home-court advantage throughout the first round of the playoffs, they have a much higher likelihood of moving on to the second round to most likely face the Miami Heat.
A matchup with LeBron James and company isn't ideal, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. The Hawks need to get past the first round first, and there are a few things Atlanta can turn to that will help them excel in the playoffs.
First, the Hawks have one thing thing that most teams struggle to defend, and that is a legitimate sharp shooter from beyond the arc—Kyle Korver.
Not only is Korver the third-most efficient three-point shooter in the NBA this season, with a 45.4 field goal percentage. He's also made the fourth-most three balls, with 173 on the year.
So why is three-point shooting so important?
Because it stretches defenses and opens up the interior for players like Al Horford and Josh Smith to dominate the paint.
With a season averages of 10.9 points, four rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, Korver is the kind of X-factor who can help the Hawks find success in the playoffs.
Another underrated advantage the Hawks have is the veteran talent they have coming off of the bench, from guys like DeShawn Stevenson, Korver and Dahntay Jones. But that veteran talent, aside from Korver's consistent production from beyond the arc, doesn't bring much production to the floor on the offensive side of the ball.
Instead, guys like Korver, Jones and Stevenson bring a defensive intensity off the bench that is second to none.
If you're doubting Stevenson's defensive abilities, just ask LeBron James how he feels about the lock-down defensive performance Stevenson administered against him in the 2011 NBA Finals when he was with the Dallas Mavericks.
Stevenson and Jones are both physical enough to bang with bigger forwards in the paint but are athletic enough to hang with guards on the perimeter.
Their on-ball defense is a main reason why the Hawks are in the top 14 in opponent's field goal percentage. It is also why they force the ninth-most turnovers per game (14.9).
While a dynamic frontcourt of Josh Smith and Al Horford isn't going catch anyone off guard, it's still an advantage that should certainly be noted.
The final overlooked advantage the Hawks have is a point guard named Jeff Teague.
Teague is a rising star in the league, and more importantly he is one of the NBA's most physical and aggressive point guards. He doesn't often settle for outside jumpers. Instead, he takes his game into the paint, trying to finish at the rim or at least pick up a foul along the way.
Teague averages 14.7 points, 7.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. His aggressive play is at the heart of the Hawks success because he opens things up for Atlanta's perimeter shooters when he penetrates.
Whoever the Hawks end up facing in the first round of the playoffs will be Teague's personal springboard for showing the entire NBA just what he's made of.
The Hawks are built to succeed in the playoffs, because they have an aggressive and efficient point guard, an interior presence, a sharpshooting threat and veteran talent coming off the bench.
While Atlanta may enter the playoffs as a four or five seed, they are a team that no one wants to face because they are built to win over the span of a playoff series.
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