Since Jan. 17, when the Hawks’ re-emergence began, they have a 108.6 defensive rating and 117.9 offensive rating, both fourth best in the NBA over that span. Their 8-1 mark is tied for Phoenix for the best record in that stretch. The Hawks’ only loss came Monday on the second night of a back-to-back against the Raptors (and Young was out). Six of their wins during the run have come against winning teams. That includes victories over Milwaukee, Miami and Phoenix, three of the NBA’s true contenders.
The Hawks are still in an undesirable spot, sitting 10th in the East with a 25-26 record. Only three games separate the top six seeds in the conference – the team that will avoid the play-in tournament – and the Hawks are four games behind the sixth-seeded Nets.
Even as the schedule lightens, it will be an uphill climb to avoid the play-in. There’s nonetheless plenty of reason for optimism. The team endured injuries and COVID-19 earlier in the season that’s had it playing catch up. But they’re starting to look like the team that ousted the Knicks and 76ers a season ago during one of the more memorable runs in franchise history.
Thursday was a reminder of how potent they can be. There is no greater measuring stick than the Suns, who boast everything from excellent coaching to high I.Q. to star power to balanced depth.
“We can beat any team in this league,” said Collins, who tweaked his shoulder but is hopeful to play Friday in Toronto. “We’re not scared of any team. It’s a matter of doing what we need to do on a consistent basis. We’re ready to win.”
And lately, they have been. Now it’s a question of whether the Hawks can maintain it and carry it into the playoffs where, if they’re looking like this, they’ll again be a team no one wants to draw.