On Sunday afternoon, following a tough loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kevin Love sounded more defeated than usual.
"That was our playoffs right there and we lost. This one hurts a lot more than others."
That loss put them back below the .500 mark, and in a position where the playoffs are almost definitely an impossibility. If being 7.5 games behind Dallas for that final 8 spot wasn't enough indication, the Suns sit between them and Phoenix, and hold a 7-game advantage of their own.
The Atlanta Hawks come into tonight to try to avenge a home loss to Phoenix of their own, and are in the midst of a 3-game losing streak. Unlike Minnesota, the Hawks are still very much playing for their playoff lives, currently sitting in the final slot in the East with a record of 31-38.
While the records may not match up, the bottom of the East is about as tight a race as the bottom of the West. The Hawks are just 2 games behind Charlotte to move up to the 7-seed, but only hold a 3-game lead on the 9th place Knicks.
The Hawks would really like this one.
The lack of Al Horford, who has been out since December 27 with a torn pectoral muscle, is obviously a big blow to the offensive schemes that head coach Mike Budenholzer would otherwise run. Lucky for Hawks fans, the front office came away with what may have been the bargain of the offseason, when they signed Paul Milsap to a 2-year, $19 million deal.
Milsap's presence and midrange game has made time without Al Horford much easier, and his 18-point, 8 rebound average was good enough for his first All Star appearance this year.
He also made a pretty neat shot on Monday.
Another piece that hasn't gotten much mention is Jeff Teague, who is in the middle of a career year of his own. He's putting up 17 points and 7 assists per night, and is averaging 23.25 points per game over his last 4 games.
The Hawks may be playing for more at this point, but it's professional basketball, and players don't "tank". Tonight's matchups between Love and Milsap, as well as Ricky Rubio and Jeff Teague should be a good pair of matchups.
A few final notes:
- No Nikola Pekovic tonight. It'll be Gorgui Dieng in the starting lineup for yet another night, and will match up against Pero Antic.
- No Kyle Korver tonight for Atlanta, who will miss his 4th consecutive game with back spasms.
- For those looking to watch the game on TV tonight, it will be on FSN Plus. Click here to figure out what channel that would be for you.