The Brooklyn Nets are at home, where they’ll take on the 35-43 Atlanta Hawks in the hopes of winning their 15th straight home game. But if there’s any indication of vindication, they might end that streak tonight.
At 43-35, the Nets rank fifth in the NBA’s playoff seeding, with very little chance of moving up or down.
But the Hawks are currently the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of the New York Knicks for the playoff spot. The Knicks have a slim chance of making the playoffs — just 1.4%, according to Sport Club Stats, but that could turn to 0% tonight.
With a Hawks win and a Knicks loss, the Hawks would guarantee the 8th seed in the playoffs, eliminating the Knicks from playoff contention.
Here’s the nuts and bolts of it: if the Hawks win and Knicks lose tonight, the Hawks guarantee that their worst record would be 36-46, and the Knicks guarantee that their best record would be 36-46. The first tiebreaker is how the teams faced in head-to-head matchups. The Knicks and Hawks split the season series, so they’d then go by who had the better in-conference record. The Hawks would then own the tiebreaker over the Knicks, because they’d have a guaranteed conference record of at least 26-26, while the Knicks would only have a conference record at best of 25-27.
There’s little incentive for the Nets to “tank” this game, though. Winning or losing won’t move the needle in their playoff seeding, the Knicks probably won’t make the playoffs anyway.
But the other problem is that the Hawks aren’t very good. While the Nets re-invented their identity after losing star center Brook Lopez to a foot injury on December 21st, the Hawks have been in relative free-fall since losing their own All-Star big man Al Horford on December 27th, going 19-30 since Horford left their lineup, and outscored by an average of 3.2 points per 100 possessions.
With Horford gone, they’ve turned to 6’8″ forward Paul Millsap as their primary option, who’s averaging 18.6 points and 8.5 rebounds in 33.7 minutes per game, and point guard Jeff Teague, averaging 16.3 points and 6.0 assists in 31.8 minutes. But both shoot below 45 percent from the field, and the Hawks suffer from poor offensive rebounding and ball control — they rank second-to-last in team turnover percentage since Horford went down, and fourth-last in offensive rebound percentage and total rebound percentage.
The Nets would normally be well-equipped to force turnovers on the Hawks, but they’ll be without one of their key defensive players tonight. Guard Shaun Livingston, a defensive havoc-inducer, will rest what the team’s calling a sprained right big toe for the second straight game. With Livingston out of the lineup, the Nets will likely start Alan Anderson, a smart on-ball defender but not the turnover-creator Livingston is.
The Nets have not listed any other players out due to injury, meaning they’ll likely go with Kevin Garnett at center and a spread-out lineup with Paul Pierce at power forward. The Hawks have struggled defending the three-point line this year, allowing opponents to shoot at a .369 clip from beyond the arc. That means Mirza Teletovic, who’s hit 7 of 12 three-pointers in two games against the Hawks, has a third chance to surprise off the bench. And something tells me he cares way more about his shots from 23’9″ and beyond than New York’s slim shot at the playoffs.
Tip-off at 7:30 P.M. Watch on My9.