Hawks have good chance to reduce magic number

The Knicks can only sit and watch over the next few days.

The Hawks’ magic number to clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is down to three. That figure could be further reduced in the next two days with back-to-back home games against sub-.500 teams.

The Hawks (34-42) host the Pistons Tuesday and the Celtics Wednesday. The Knicks (33-45), who trail the Hawks by two games (three in the loss column), do not play again until Friday.

“Our fate is almost in Atlanta’s hands,” Carmelo Anthony told the New York Post after the Knicks lost to the Heat Sunday. “It’s tough. We got to watch this week and hope and pray they lose some games and we got to win some basketball games. That’s frustrating too, knowing my fate is in somebody else’s hands.”

Any combination of Hawks’ win or a Knicks’ losses that total three will advance Atlanta to its seventh consecutive postseason. With the Celtics elimination from playoff contention this season, the Hawks would own the longest streak of consecutive postseason appearances in the Eastern Conference.

Following Wednesday, the Hawks and Knicks will each have four games remaining in the regular season. The Hawks cut their magic number by two Sunday as they walloped the Pacers, 107-88, and the Knicks lost to the Heat, 102-91.

The Hawks have won three of their past four games to re-insert themselves into playoff position that seemed like a given for much of the season. They fell percentage points behind the Knicks after a loss to the Bulls Wednesday.

The Hawks are sticking to the one-game-at-a-time philosophy. They only recently returned to relative health. They may have survived another injury scare Sunday when leading scorer Paul Millsap suffered a right thumb contusion. The All-Star came out of the game to get his hand wrapped before returning in the third quarter.

“You have to keep taking it one game at a time,” Kyle Korver said. “We can’t relax. Too many things can happen. Paul gets hurt. I thought he broke his hand. What if he did? So many things can happen so you just take it one game at a time. We are playing better basketball lately and we’ll just keep on building.”

The Hawks did not practice Monday. An update on the condition of Millsap and Lou Williams, who missed Sunday’s game with a sore left hamstring, will come Tuesday morning. Millsap said following Sunday’s game that his thumb was sore and he had to bend his fingernail back into place but that he didn’t expect to miss any time.

The unit of Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic, Millsap and Korver ran their record to 12-5 as starters. It was the group that coach Mike Budenholzer favored after the season-ending injury to Al Horford. However, at different times one or more of the five have been injured since Horford went down limiting their games together.

“This group, we feel like we have some chemistry when we are on the court,” Millsap said. “If Pero goes down, or Kyle goes down or I go down, you have to build chemistry with someone else. We feel comfortable with each other out there.”

The Hawks host the Pistons (28-49) in a game that was postponed Jan. 29 by the ice storm that hit metro-Atlanta. The Pistons have won just five times in their past 22 games. The Celtics (23-54) have won just once in the past 14 games, including a current eight-game losing streak.

The Pistons feature three players with local ties. Josh Smith, who played his first nine seasons with his hometown Hawks, returns to Philips Arena averaging 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in 77 games after signing with the Pistons as a free agent last summer. Georgia Tech’s Will Bynum is averaging 8.7 points in 56 ganes. Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 5.7 points in 75 games.