The Atlanta Hawks will look to extend their winning streak and continue an improbable run at avoiding the Eastern Conference play-in tournament when they visit the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.
On a night when the Raptors could clinch a postseason berth, the Hawks officially would be eliminated in their pursuit of a top-six finish in the East with a loss.
Atlanta (41-37), which already has clinched no worse than 10th place in the East, begins the week four games behind the Raptors (45-33) and Chicago Bulls (45-33) with four to play. They cannot catch the Bulls, who have beaten both the Hawks and Raptors in the season series, but can still draw even with Toronto and tie the season series by winning four straight while the Raptors would have to lose four.
Equally important, a sixth straight Hawks win would keep them ahead of the Charlotte Hornets (40-38) and Brooklyn Nets (40-38) in their duel for the eighth, ninth and 10th spots in the Eastern play-in tournament.
With all teams involved playing Tuesday night, it’s a dizzying array of possibilities. Hawks coach Nate McMillan frankly would rather just focus on a team that he believes is rolling.
“I think it’s been the best basketball,” he said of a five-game winning streak that included a 122-115 victory over the Nets on Saturday. “It’s been consistent basketball. We’ve established our defense. Offensively, we’re getting ball movement. We’re scoring the ball. Both groups are consistent.
“This is the team (we’ve expected). It’s showing up at the right time. It’s good to get into a rhythm this time of the season. You take that into the next game. Five wins in a row for us — we seem to be playing with good rhythm.”
The leader of the band has been Trae Young, who has topped 30 points in four of the last five games, registering double-doubles on three of those occasions.
As Young has gone, so has the victory in the first two meetings with the Raptors this season. He sat out a January home loss to the Raptors, then was held without a 3-pointer in a defeat at Toronto in early February. He rebounded, however, to score 41 points in a victory in a rematch at home later in the month.
The Raptors had a five-game winning streak before falling 114-109 at home to the Miami Heat on Sunday. It prevented them from clinching a higher finishing spot than the Hawks.
The Raptors still can clinch a playoff berth Tuesday night, but that would require not only a win by them but also a loss by the Cleveland Cavaliers (43-36) at Orlando.
OG Anunoby missed the Miami game with a bruised thigh, continuing a trend of lineup-shuffling that Raptors coach Nick Nurse would like to see stop.
“It’s been surprising how little they have been available,” he said of his preferred starting lineup. “All year long, it feels like hardly any at all. I think we need to get them a little more organized and a little bit more connected.”
Anunoby had been one of the Raptors’ best players during the five-game winning streak. He averaged 16.0 points, shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 55.6 percent on 3-pointers.
Having not played since suffering the injury Friday, Anunoby could return to face the Hawks.
–Field Level Media