Hawks face elimination for second time in as many games

This isn’t last season, the Hawks are quick to remind.

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The Hawks made a deep postseason run, all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, last year. They took the eventual NBA champion Bucks to six games. That Game 6 loss was only the second elimination game the Hawks played last postseason. The other was the Game 7 win over the 76ers in the second round.

The Hawks are about to play their second elimination game this postseason, before they ever reach the actual playoffs.

The Hawks defeated the Hornets on Wednesday, 132-103, in one play-in tournament game. Had they lost, the season would have been over just like that. The victory earned the Hawks the right to travel to the Cavaliers on Friday for another play-in elimination game. Should they win, the Hawks advance as the No. 8 seed to face the No. 1-seed Heat in a seven-game playoff series that begins Sunday. Should they lose, the season will be over just like that.

“You treat every playoff game like a one-and-done,” Kevin Huerter said. “I know there are series built in, but you look at each game, you prepare for each game differently. That’s what we are doing with this. It’s a quick turnaround. Going to a new team right away. … That’s the only difference. You go into the game treating it like a one-game series, and that’s how we are treating this one.”

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The Hawks are quick to point out that last year doesn’t really matter now. Sure, there was valuable playoff experience gained last year, but this is a new season. It has presented its own set of challenges, lest we forget the COVID-19 outbreak that struck the team early on. This is a different roster, if only slightly. This isn’t the regular season.

“We don’t think about last year right now, honestly,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said about the mindset of playing without the benefit of a multi-game series. “We should all be focused on (this) game. We know what situation we are in, and we need a win. We need to get to the playoffs.”

The Hawks also are quick to point out that their 3-1 regular-season record against the Cavaliers this season doesn’t matter in one winner-take-all game, even one on the road where the Hawks have struggled this season.

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The Hawks lost to the Cavaliers in the second game of the season and then scored at least 121 points in three consecutive wins. The last coming March 31 with a 131-107 home victory.

“We didn’t accomplish anything yet,” Bogdanovic said.