A difficult start to the Hawks’ second season awaits before the home stretch.
The final buzzer in Orlando on Wednesday night not only signified a fantastic comeback victory for the Atlanta Hawks but also the end of the first half of their season, with the All-Star break proving a good opportunity to reflect on, well, many different things.
One of those things — due to the unique circumstances that this season is taking place under — is the NBA schedule which, this season, was released at two different stages: the first half released obviously before the season and the second half schedule released in February.
The Hawks enter the All-Star break with a 16-20 record in a season that hasn’t gone according to plan. After being heralded as one of the big winners of the “summer,” the Hawks have dealt with numerous injuries all through the season.
Free agent signings Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic have missed a significant amount of time between them, Kris Dunn hasn’t played (however, there’s optimism that Dunn could return to action by the end of March) while De’Andre Hunter was enjoying a breakout sophomore season before his own injury. Cam Reddish also missed the final five games before the All-Star break.
Between injuries to high-profile rotation players ripping through the Hawks’ rotation and their on-court struggles contributing to a 14-20 record, the Hawks made the decision to relieve head coach Lloyd Pierce of his duties just prior to the All-Star break.
In his place, Nate McMillan was named as the Interim head coach and the Hawks now look ahead to the second half of the season. While McMillan has plenty to think about in terms of rotations and other principles he wants to implement going forward for the remainder of the season, the Hawks — in the meantime — can scan their eyes ahead to what lies next, and that’s we’re going to do today as well.
If you’re unfamiliar with how these work, you can look here for reference, but otherwise we’re going to jump right in, starting with the remainder of March.
Total games: 11 games
Home games: 3 games
Road games: 8 games
Longest road trip: 6 games (as part of an 8-game road trip extending into April)
Longest homestand: 2 games
Average winning percentage: 0.494%
A very road heavy March once the Hawks get back into action but even still, there’s a lot of winnable spots here for the Hawks, including two home games against teams with lesser records in the form of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Sacramento Kings. Those home games, few and far between in March, will be huge because once the Hawks get going on their Western Conference road trip, things will be tough. Before Hawks embark on that trip, they have a one-game stop in Houston where another great opportunity to collect a victory possibly awaits — the Rockets have lost 13 straight games heading into the All-Star break.
Once the Hawks do head on their eight-game road trip out west, there’s really not a lot of spots that are going to be seen as favorable for the Hawks other than, perhaps, that Kings game. Even looking at the first two games of April — the last two of the road trip, it’s tough to say how that road trip will go. If the Hawks could go 3-5 on the trip, given their opposition, I think that would be a good return on the road.
Total games: 16 games
Home games: 9 games
Road games: 7 games
Longest road trip: 2 games (on three occasions)
Longest homestand: 4 games
Average winning percentage: 0.489%
A jam-packed April for the Hawks as they conclude their eight-game road trip to begin the month. What awaits them when they return is four-game homestand against some beatable teams. March sees the Hawks take on a lot of Western Conference opponents but any matchup with an Eastern Conference opponent will be hugely significant with so many teams closely contested in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Once the Hawks wrap up their four-game homestand against the Grizzlies on Apr. 8, it’s Eastern Conference opponents for the rest of the month.
Two matchups against the Milwaukee Bucks will be tough — though. with both of them taking place at home helps somewhat, a split would be a great outcome — and a road fixture against the Eastern Conference leading 76ers to end April will be a tough fixture.
As for the rest of the month, you’d have to say looking at the schedule, there are a lot of winnable spots for the Hawks. So if March proves to be difficult, the Hawks have a lot of opportunities to make up in April. Four back-to-backs in the month is extensive and fixture congestion may play a role in some potential games lost here for the Hawks too.
However, great opportunity awaits in April, potentially.
Total games: 9 games
Home games: 7 games
Road games: 2 games
Longest road trip: 1 game
Longest homestand: 4 games
Average winning percentage: 0.487
A home-happy May awaits the Hawks, including seven of the last eight games at State Farm Arena and a four-game homestand to end the season. Phoenix, Philadelphia and Portland — at the moment — stand to be the Hawks’ toughest tests as the Hawks hope to clinch a playoff berth/play-in spot but the rest of those games you’d have to say are good opportunities for the Hawks to bolster their position (should they still be in the hunt).
Potentially crucial matchups against the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and two matchups against the Washington Wizards may prove to be absolutely decisive when it comes to playoff positioning and/or tiebreaker situations.
Total games: 36 games
Home games: 19 games
Road games: 17 games
Longest road trip: 8 games
Longest homestand: 4 games (twice)
Strength of schedule (ESPN): .501
All told, the Hawks begin their second half of their season with a road heavy, intense schedule — with April’s 16 games adding to that intensity — but the competition will prove a little less intense compared to the Lakers, Clippers, Phoenix etc. fixtures out West.
The first few weeks of the second half of the season will be important for the Hawks: if they can tread above water and not sink, they’ll be relatively good shape come the time their schedule begins to get a little easier and a lot more home-based as the season draws to a close.
The Hawks sit just three games back of the Boston Celtics in the 4-seed. With how congested the Eastern Conference is, and the number of games the Hawks have with those in-or-around where the Hawks hope to be, every single one of those games is going to be of huge significance. To that end, it will be interesting to see how the Hawks handle such instances as they’ve never been in the position as a team competing for seeding down the stretch. It’s cliché, but every game really does count and the Hawks can’t afford slip ups against teams they need to beat.
Right now, the Hawks are in 11th in the Eastern Conference, just a half-game from the No. 10 spot and the play-in tournament.
With how injury ravaged they’ve been and despite how many games they’ve let slip in fourth quarters, you’d be forgiven for being optimistic that the Hawks could easily find themselves higher in the standings come Game 72. Other than their road-heavy schedule upon return, you’d have to say the rest of the schedule gives them a great opportunity to do just that, especially if the Hawks are welcoming back both Dunn and, more significantly, Hunter in the somewhat near future potentially.
A lot has to happen between now and then. However, the top of that list stands how the Hawks adjust to the new things McMillan introduces after the All-Star break as he really sinks his teeth into his new interim head coaching role.
A very interesting couple of months await for the Atlanta Hawks…