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How Atlanta Hawks Match Up Against Every Potential Conference Playoff Opponent

Joe WirthContributor IIIApril 9, 2013

How Atlanta Hawks Match Up Against Every Potential Conference Playoff Opponent

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    Although the Eastern Conference playoff teams are set, their seedings are still in flux.

    With four games remaining in the regular season, there is still time for the playoff standings to change. As of now, however, the Atlanta Hawks are the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.

    They are one half-game behind Chicago for the No. 5 seed and 1.5 games ahead of Boston, which currently occupies the No. 7 seed.

    For the intents and purposes of this article, I will assess Atlanta’s matchups against opponents as if the playoffs were to begin today.

    The following is how the Atlanta Hawks will match up against every potential conference playoff opponent.

No. 1 Seed Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and, assuming the Hawks finish as the No. 6 seed, they would play the Atlanta only if both teams advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Although unlikely, if the Hawks do advance that far, they will have their work cut out for them against their Southeast Division rivals.

    The Hawks went 0-4 against the Heat this year and were capable of keeping Miami under 98 points just once.

    The one true advantage the Hawks have is in the post. Al Horford is having a great season and, although he is not a traditional center, his presence down low could exploit the Heat's weakness in the frontcourt.

    Other than Horford, the Hawks are outmanned at every position. In a potential playoff series, expect the Heat's offense to be too much. The Heat should win the series in five games.

    The Hawks should consider it a great achievement if they even get to the Eastern Conference Finals.

No. 2 Seed New York Knicks

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    As the seeding stands today, a potential Knicks-Hawks playoff matchup would take place in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

    Although they are a No. 2 seed and currently riding a 12-game winning streak, New York is far from invincible. The franchise has only won one playoff game since 2001 and its star, Carmelo Anthony, is not known for his postseason prowess.

    With one game remaining against New York, Atlanta is 0-2 against the Knicks this season.

    New York does not have a defense that can consistently stop Horford in the post and, in their previous matchups, point guard Jeff Teague was able to provide solid backcourt scoring and average 21.5 points per game.

    If Atlanta is going to have a shot at defeating New York in a seven-game series, it is going to come down to defense.

    Carmelo Anthony is averaging 41 points per game against the Hawks this year. Unless Josh Smith steps up and is able to slow Anthony down, the Knicks will be able to out-shoot Atlanta to a series win.

    If their defense steps up, the Hawks have a legitimate shot to win a series against the Knicks. If not, expect a high-scoring series and the Knicks to win in six games.

No. 3 Seed Indiana Pacers

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    If the playoffs began today, the Hawks would be matched up with the Indiana Pacers in the first round.

    The Hawks split the season series with the Pacers 2-2. Each team won their home games.

    Although the Pacers are thought of as the major threat to the Heat's reign over the Eastern Conference, the Hawks could put all of those thoughts to bed with a first-round upset.

    The Pacers have won the last two meetings between the teams, but the Hawks have proven they can thwart the Pacers offense. In their two victories over Indiana, the Hawks allowed only 93 points per game. In their two defeats, they allowed the Pacers to score 107 points per game.

    The critical matchup will be between Al Horford and the Pacers frontcourt. Between Roy Hibbert and David West, Indiana has bodies down low that can make life difficult for Horford.

    If Horford can win that matchup and the Hawks can get solid production the outside from the likes of Teague and Smith, they can make this a very competitive series.

    This will be one of the more entertaining series in the first round, but expect the Pacers to pull it out in seven games.

No. 4 Seed Brooklyn Nets

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    As the records stand now, a matchup between the Hawks and Nets would take place in the Eastern Conference Finals. Though unlikely, a meeting in the playoffs between the two teams would be a favorable matchup for the Hawks.

    Atlanta split the season series with Brooklyn 2-2, but it was missing Al Horford in one of those losses.

    In the other three games against the Nets, Horford averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds per game. If Horford can keep Brook Lopez in check in the post, the Hawks will win the series.

    Josh Smith also had impressive numbers against the Nets this season. Despite missing one of the games against Brooklyn, Smith averaged 15 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

    Like in their potential matchup against the Knicks, the Hawks will have success against the Nets in a playoff series because the Nets lack playoff experience.

    The Nets franchise has not been in the playoffs since 2007 and, if this matchup were to happen, the Hawks would win in six games because of Brooklyn's inexperience.

No. 5 Seed Chicago Bulls

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    A potential Bulls-Hawks matchup would not take place until the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Although improbable, this matchup would favor the Bulls. Chicago has the playoff pedigree and, despite a December win by the Hawks, the Bulls have dominated Atlanta this year.

    Chicago won the series 2-1 and outscored the Hawks in the last two meetings by 56 points.

    In one January meeting, the Hawks put up one of the most embarrassing performances in franchise history by scoring only 58 points, including a five-point second quarter.

    In their final matchup of the year, the Hawks managed to only put up 76 points in a 17-point home loss.

    The Bulls know how to win in the playoffs. Their stifling defense would quell the Hawks offensive attack.

    Chicago would end this series quickly and take care of business in four or five games.

No. 7 Seed Boston Celtics

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    If the season ended today, the Hawks would face the Celtics in the playoffs only if both teams won their first-round matchup.

    These same teams faced each other in the first round last year, and the Celtics won the series in six games.

    The Celtics have experience, but they are old, and they are not the same team without Rondo.

    The Celtics won the season series 3-1, but at this point of the year, attrition is as valuable as talent and experience. Atlanta is a younger team, and the longer the series goes, the better their chances are for victory.

    If the series goes longer than five games, look for Boston to look old and the Hawks to push the tempo and wear out the Celtics' legs.

    Al Horford will dominate in the post and lead the Hawks to a win in six games.

No. 8 Seed Milwaukee Bucks

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    This would be the most unlikely of all the potential opponents the Hawks could face in the playoffs. If this matchup were to occur, it would only be in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    With one game remaining in the season series, the Hawks own a 3-0 advantage over the Bucks.

    In their three games against the Bucks, the Hawks' stars have been at their best.

    Al Horford averaged 24.3 points per game, 11 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game. Josh Smith averaged 16.6 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game and 5 assists per game.

    This type of production in a playoff game would be too much for Milwaukee to combat. The Hawks would in the series in five games,

Overview

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    After not being in the playoffs from 2000 to 2007, this season will mark Atlanta's sixth consecutive postseason appearance.

    During this stretch, however, they have not made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks have been consistent winners, but they have been unable to to take that next step and become a part of the NBA's elite by making a deep playoff run.

    This season seems to be following that same story. If they play well, the Hawks could win one playoff series, but anything more is very unlikely.

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