5 Things to Watch for During Atlanta Hawks' Final Games

Dan Schultz@DSchultz89Contributor IMarch 10, 2014

5 Things to Watch for During Atlanta Hawks' Final Games

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    The saying “it has been up and down” aptly fits the 2013-14 Atlanta Hawks.

    After starting out hot to begin the year, with head coach Mike Budenholzer looking like a viable Coach of the Year candidate and Al Horford busting out for a career year, things have taken a downturn as of late.

    Once a virtual lock for the third seed out East after securing it for most of the season, the Hawks suddenly lost Horford for the year due to injury in December. Since then, the team has struggled to find a suitable replacement for him.

    The Hawks did a good job holding off the inevitable slippage that occurs with devastating injuries like this, but right now, it appears Atlanta is on the verge of falling apart completely after an initial great start.

    Here are five things to watch for during the Atlanta Hawks’ final games of the season:

1. Their Big Man Situation

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    With a healthy Horford, they are fine overall.

    However, two of their centers, Horford and Gustavo Ayon, are done for the year due to injury.

    Pero Antic certainly gives this team a much-needed offensive punch inside, but he offers limited rim protection and rebounding.

    Mike Scott has been terrific but is a power forward, and the Hawks already play more than enough small ball.

    To put it simply, this team is hurting for some size.

    Both Scott and Paul Millsap are considered to be undersized at the power forward situation alone. The Hawks are currently 28th in the league in rebounding, dropping two spots from where they were last week.

    With limited options in free agency and the trade deadline long since passed, it is up to Coach Bud to will his team to crash the glass more and give Millsap a consistent post partner who can play well on both sides of the floor.

    This is a huge key for this team going forward.

2. Jeff Teague, and If He Finally Starts to Live Up to Expectations

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    Before this season, Jeff Teague was considered to be a great prospect with the potential to have a real coming-out season given the complete trust his team gave to him when it rewarded him with a four-year contract.

    Just like the Hawks themselves, Teague has been inconsistent.

    For most of the year, his shooting percentages have been dreadful. Recently, though, Teague had a string of four straight 20-plus-point games in a row, an impressive feat for a player in a legendary slump this year.

    For a player raking in $32 million over the next four seasons, it is definitely possible that the weight of that contract packaged with high expectations weighed him down to begin the year.

    The Hawks better hope that Teague rediscovers his confidence and starts to shoot better consistently, because he is a huge piece of the puzzle to them going forward.

3. Getting Back to Winning

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    Right now, Atlanta stands at 26-35, eighth in the Eastern Conference.

    It is one thing to limp into the playoffs as the Hawks appear to be doing now, but it is another to go 1-14 during the past 15 games.

    Atlanta has not won two games in a row since January.

    As noted previously, the rebounding has taken a plunge, the Hawks have trouble scoring the ball and, in those recent 14 losses, they have allowed over 100-plus points in 13 of those games.

    Basically, they are in a tailspin, and they need to snap out of it fast.

    Now, with a healthy Antic back in the lineup and Teague showing brief flashes of wanting to take on more of the offense, the Hawks do have a faint glimmer of hope to get back on the right path.

    With the season winding down, however, they have to find their groove fast.

4. Securing a Playoff Seed

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    At this point, I think they still lock up the eighth seed.

    The East is in slightly better shape than where it was at the beginning of the season. There are now six teams with a better-than-.500 record (hooray!). The Detroit Pistons are the closest team to giving the Hawks a serious challenge for the final spot, but they are still three games back.

    There is an outside chance Motown makes a run and snatches up that spot, but I do believe Atlanta finds its swagger back and finds a way to get into the playoffs.

    The Hawks have been a consistent playoff team over the past few years, and aside from their big-man situation, they are a fairly balanced team overall. It all comes down to confidence and running the system the way they did at the start of the year, which I think they will discover very soon.

5. Not Getting Swept in the 1st Round

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    A few weeks ago, I said the Hawks would play the Toronto Raptors in the first round and pull an upset.

    I do not think that scenario will happen anymore.

    It is still important to the Hawks to make the playoffs and show that they can still be competitive even as injuries threaten to rip them asunder. The amount of character it shows to fight on even while the ship appears to be sinking earns you lots of respect, and it helps with team morale.

    Look at the Chicago Bulls.

    Realistically, whether they face the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat, I think the Hawks’ best-case scenario is taking the series to six games.

    This is not meant as a slight to the franchise, for as noted, the team is beat up and struggling right now.

    However, if the Hawks can start to win again and find some momentum going into the playoffs, I think they can grab a win or two and show the best teams out East that they are no easy out.

    This may appear to be a loss to many Hawks fans at the end of the day, but if their team can avoid a sweep and take it to maybe six games, I think morally it has to be a win for the franchise given what they have gone through this year.