Hawks Clinch 2021 NBA Playoff Spot; Latest Eastern Conference Standings

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMay 13, 2021

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) puts up a shot against the Washington Wizards during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

The Atlanta Hawks will be playing postseason basketball for the first time in four years after coming back from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat the Washington Wizards 120-116 on Wednesday.

x - Atlanta Hawks @ATLHawks

🚨 THE PAC IS BACK. 🚨 Playoff basketball is back. We have officially clinched a top 6 playoff spot. https://t.co/IMzDFbWvvs

Below is a look at the latest Eastern Conference standings with four-plus days of regular-season basketball left. The top six finishers will earn automatic playoff berths. The next four teams in the standings will head to a play-in tournament to find out the final two East playoff seeds.

The top five Eastern Conference teams have now clinched playoff berths, with the New York Knicks the next team in line to do so with one more win or a Boston Celtics loss.

The Nos. 6 through 9 teams can do no worse than a play-in berth, and the Washington Wizards will head to the play-in competition with one win or one Chicago Bulls loss.


Eastern Conference

2. Brooklyn Nets: 46-24

3. Milwaukee Bucks: 44-25

4. Atlanta Hawks: 39-31

5. Miami Heat: 38-31

6. New York Knicks: 38-31

7. Boston Celtics: 35-35

9. Indiana Pacers: 33-36

10. Washington Wizards: 32-38

11. Chicago Bulls: 29-40

12. Toronto Raptors: 27-42

14. Orlando Magic: 21-48

15. Detroit Pistons: 20-50


Atlanta made the playoffs for 10 straight years from 2008-2017, with its best season coming in 2014-15, when the team went 60-22, earned the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed and reached the conference finals.

However, that team broke apart within a few years, and the bottom fell out in 2017-18 as Atlanta went 24-58.

The Hawks then began the rebuilding process, adding Trae Young and John Collins via the 2018 NBA draft. They selected other first-rounders in 2019 and 2020 who currently hold rotation spots, including De'Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish. They also added Houston Rockets big man Clint Capela via trade.

Atlanta struggled over the last two years as all the pieces came together, with the team going 29-53 in 2018-19 and 20-47 in 2019-20.

The 2020-21 season opened with promise, but the Hawks struggled out of the gate and started just 14-20.

Lloyd Pierce, who took over for Mike Budenholzer when the coach left for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018, was relieved from his duties after the poor start. He was replaced by Nate McMillan, who previously led the Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.

McMillan's 17-year head coaching career now includes 10 seasons ending in the playoffs, and he also has a winning lifetime record of 686-599.

The 56-year-old, who most recently guided the Pacers from 2016-2020, clearly had a positive impact on the team, which rolled off eight straight wins to start his Atlanta tenure.

That placed the 22-20 Hawks fourth in a top-heavy Eastern Conference dominated by the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks.

The middle of the conference pack enjoyed more successful second halves to their regular seasons, and the Hawks didn't stay scorching hot forever.

But they still kept pace for a playoff berth, going 17-11 after that initial eight-game win streak. Now they're safely in the playoffs.