Hawks playoff picture: Race for No. 4 seed takes a hit with Millsap, Bazemore injuries
After a three-game winning streak, the Atlanta Hawks were just one game behind the Toronto Raptors for fourth place in the Eastern Conference going into play on Monday March 13. Sunday, after three straight losses, they’re now three games back, with 13 games remaining for both teams.
Further hampering the Hawks’ chase for the fourth seed, which comes with homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, was some tough injury news the team received Sunday afternoon. Two key players, Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore, are set to miss time in the upcoming week, and perhaps beyond. Via Atlanta’s press release:
Guard Kent Bazemore, who left last night’s game against Portland with 5:27 remaining in the fourth quarter due to a right knee contusion, received an MRI this morning at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, which revealed a right knee bone bruise. He will be treated and re-evaluated in 7-10 days. He is listed as out and will not travel for tomorrow’s game at Charlotte.
Forward Paul Millsap, who missed last night’s game vs. Portland due to left knee tightness, is listed as out and will miss the next two games – tomorrow at Charlotte and Wednesday at Washington. His status will be updated as appropriate.
Millsap’s impact, of course, cannot be understated, as he’s the team’s leading scorer, the second-leading rebounder, and second in assists, steals, and blocks. He does everything for the Hawks, and they’re 0-4 this year with him out of the lineup. When he’s on the court, the Hawks are +1.6 points per 100 possessions, but their net rating drops to -5.7 when he’s out of the game. Even if he’s only out for the two games against Charlotte and Washington, that’s a really tough blow for Atlanta.
As for Bazemore, he’s been all over the place this season, but is still a very athletic and versatile player, and had scored in double-figures in his last four outings. His absence will make them pretty thin at the two, and they could recall DeAndre Bembry to take his place.
Looking at the schedule for the next few days, it’s possible Atlanta’s chase for homecourt in the first round could be over before Millsap and Bazemore get back. The Hawks could handle a struggling Hornets team Monday night, but that’s no guarantee, and their matchup Wednesday against the Wizards will be very tough without Millsap and Bazemore. That could very well end up being two more losses, extending their losing streak to five games.
Meanwhile, the Raptors’ next two games are very winnable, as they have the Pacers and Bulls at home. If the Hawks go 0-2, while the Raps go 2-0 over their next two games, respectively, which is quite plausible, the Raptors would be five games up with 11 to play. And even though the Hawks hold the tiebreaker over the Raptors, that would be quite a difficult hole to dig out of.
On the other side of things for Atlanta, their lead in fifth over the Pacers is now just 1 1/2 games, with the teams scheduled to meet in each team’s regular-season finale, in a game that will decide the tiebreaker between the two. All of a sudden, instead of being right on the Raptors’ tail for fourth, the Hawks’ position in fifth is nowhere near being secure.