A festive night elsewhere in the NBA — Warriors hit 73! Kobe gets 60 (on 50 shots)! — was a damp squib for the local franchise. In a regular season that will be recalled for what didn’t happen, the Atlanta Hawks mustered a slew of Didn’t Happens on Wednesday.
Didn’t finish atop the Southeast Division for a second consecutive season.
Didn’t claim the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed.
Didn’t avoid Cleveland in Round 2.
In the grand scheme, the first two don’t much matter. The last matters much. Not since 2010 has the team with LeBron James failed to make the Eastern Conference final. Cleveland has LeBron James.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer claimed playoff seeding is no big deal. Perhaps taking those words to heart, his team gave a weird effort in Washington D.C. last night. Maybe the Hawks were distracted by the careening scores from Boston — the Miami Heat led by 24 after two quarters and trailed by 10 after four — but still: They were playing the Wizards, who worked without four starters. The Hawks lost by 11. They scored 59 points in the first half; they managed 39 in the second.
Had they won, they’d be facing the Heat in Round 1. (Maybe that explains Wednesday’s loss — the desire to avoid Miami, which beat the Hawks three of four.) Instead they’ll face the Celtics, who are young and rough and nicely coached by Brad Stevens. The Hawks should win the series — they hold the homecourt edge — but this is a scary opponent.
The Hawks won three of four against Boston. They met only once since Christmas, that coming Saturday in a game — the Hawks won by 11 — that positioned them to win the Southeast and claim the No. 3 seed. Then they lost at Cleveland and in D.C. They’re not exactly entering the playoffs on a high.
Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, the story of this uneventful regular season. The Hawks went from 60 wins and the No. 1 seed to 48 and No. 4. They didn’t fall off a cliff but consolidated no gains. They often played as if these 82 games didn’t count for much, which was kind of understandable given how last year’s playoffs unfolded.
The 60-win Hawks were taken to six games by sub-.500 Brooklyn in Round 1 and fifth-seeded (and ailing) Washington in Round 2; then they were swept by the Cavaliers. This time they’ll face a team in Round 1 that won more games than last year’s Round 2 opponent. And they’d better not sleep on the C’s.