By James Goeders
Now officially one-third through with the season, the Atlanta Hawks are sitting at 16-6, and on pace for their best single-season win percentage in franchise history. Coming off of a five-game road trip (the first of three road trips lasting five or more games in this shortened season) where the Hawks went 4-1, there is a much better outlook to the season than when Al Horford went down two-and-a-half weeks ago. When news of the injury was first released, many outlets completely wrote off the Hawks. At best, they said, the Hawks were looking at an 8 seed in the playoffs. Going back to the 2001-02 season, the average win percentage of the 7 and 8 seeds are .505 and .483 respectively (meaning 33 or 32 wins would be necessary this season to secure one of the two lowest seeds). With the turmoil in Orlando, and no one outside of Chicago or Miami looking that dominant in the Eastern Conference, I do not think it would be unreasonable to still strive for a top 4 seed. The jump to a 4 seed has required a winning percentage of 0.572 (38 wins) over the past decade. Taking into account two standard deviations gives 43 wins to "guarantee" a top 4 seed this season, which will require the Hawks go 27-17 the rest of the way.
Now where do those 27 wins come from? The Hawks have 24 home games and 20 road games left. Of those 24 home games, 12 are against teams who currently have losing records (including 2 against Detroit, as well as games against Washington, New Jersey, and Charlotte). The Hawks are 8-1 at home this season, so hopefully against the weaker teams they can win 10 of 12. Of the other 12 home games, we'll be less ambitious and hope to win 8 of 12. This leaves 9 more wins to go to hit our mark. The road schedule is similar in difficulty, with 10 of 20 teams currently having losing records. Winning on the road is tough in the NBA, though the Hawks do have the 5th best road record in the league so far, but we'll hope for 6 of 10 against the lesser teams on the road. That means that the Hawks just need to steal 3 of the other 10 road games (2 against Orlando, then games against the Lakers, Portland, Chicago, Indiana, Miami, Denver, the Clippers, and Philadelphia). Of course we can only use the past decade as a guide, it obviously cannot guarantee anything, but if the Hawks finish the year 43-23 I can't foresee them being any lower than the 4 seed, meaning a first round playoff series with probably Boston, Philadelphia, or Indiana and putting off Chicago or Miami to the second round.