Enough of this, "the Hawks play in the east", or "the Hawks still aren't a legitimate threat" to be playing in the professional version of basketball's final four. Simply put, yes they are.
Most people will argue that NBA's elite of elite consists of the Lakers, Cavs, and Magic. The consensus also is that of the remaining teams, that second tier of elite teams consists of the likes of the Mavs, Nuggets, Spurs and Celtics, with some perhaps acknowledging that the Thunder might ready to spoil the party.
For some reason though, people still sleep on the Hawks. They still dismiss them for playing down to competition (a fair enough point, but one that doesn't factor into postseason prognostications), or dismiss Woodson, or like to pretend that Josh Smith is still the Josh Smith of old.
If anybody is going to crash the party of the big three, it's these Hawks. Along the way this season in particular, they've wilted in some fourth quarters, as some youthful teams are wan to do. However, as of late, they've managed to pull out some crucial fourth quarter victories over quality teams.
Consider this, against that triumvate at the top of the NBA, the Hawks have managed three wins against 6 losses. Clearly, simple math clearly indicates that does not indicate the odds to be in their favor when the playoffs begin.
However, winning 3 of 9 against those teams does show them to clearly be capable of competing against that bunch. Particularly when factoring in that in the past two Wednesdays they have managed to knock off both teams who played in the NBA Finals last season. So when it comes to peaking at the right time and playing your best basketball heading into the playoffs, such results bode well.
Also, do not forget that the Hawks did indeed hold rather decent fourth quarter leads in both games against Cleveland, and if not for an egregious clock error in Cleveland, the Hawks would likely have come away with a road win against the Cavs. Now, four of nine doesn't look too bad, does it?
And of the other squads considered to be legit contenders?
San Antonio? Split.
Dallas? Split, with one of those being one of those 4th collapses that absolutely should not happen.
Celtics? Try 4-0
Phoenix? Split with them too.
The Bucks? Yeah, another split.
But this team can't compete in the playoffs with the best of the NBA, right?
Keep in mind, only five teams in the entire NBA have a better point differential than do the Hawks. They haven't lost by more than eight points since February, 10th. One of those was the overtime loss to Dallas.
In fact, since February began the Hawks have gone 18-9. Of those 9 losses, in five such games they had a chance to tie or win the final 30 seconds of regulation. In the other four, only the Miami game wasn't winnable in the final two minutes.
You win 2 out of every 3 games in the playoffs, and put yourseslf in position to win that third one, odds are pretty good you're going to compete and be a tought out.
Regardless of who the Hawks draw, when they play inspired, team basketball, which they tend to do against the elite teams, they can beat them. The other teams around the league have begun to recognize that.
Maybe the fans will learn that too. If not, some more fans are going to be awfully upset when an "inferior" Hawks team is pushing their team to the limit in the postseason, or worse yet, still playing while theirs is at home.