The Atlanta Hawks are once again eyeing the fifth slot in the NBA playoffs. The Hawks have advanced to the second round of the playoffs the past three seasons but they may have a problem making it four in a row with all of the injuries they have sustained to their frontcourt.
Atlanta has been without its best frontcourt player center Al Horford all season due to a pectoral strain he suffered in their 11th game of the year. Although they were hoping he would be ready to play at least by the start of the playoffs that doesn’t look to be the case.
Reports are that he has been cleared for contact work which is a promising sign but with only five games left to the season, Horford doesn’t have time to get into game shape. It is possible though that he could give the Hawks decent minutes off the bench the way Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem did for the Miami Heat during last season’s playoffs.
Haslem and Milller both missed a big chunk of the regular season last year before joining the Heat during the playoffs and helping them reach the Finals. The problem is that neither one of those guys were starters before their injuries. Horford was.
And not only will Horford be limited if he even plays at all, the Hawks are now without center Zaza Pachulia who replaced Horford in the starting lineup when Horford went down. Pachulia will miss the remainder of the season with a foot injury.
The Hawks have refused to reveal the severity of Pachulia’s injury but they hope that he will be available for the playoffs. If neither Pachulia nor Horford is available then the Hawks will have to go with Jason Collins as their starting center for the playoffs which is not a good proposition.
One more member of the Hawks’ frontcourt has missed games lately and that is backup forward Vladimir Radmanovic. Radmanovic has missed 14 games over the past month due to an ailing back. His three-point shooting was a big reason the Hawks were able to stay afloat after Horford got injured earlier in the season.
Now the Hawks have gone with a lineup that features Josh Smith and Joe Johnson in the frontcourt. While this has been successful during the regular season it may cause the Hawks to have matchup problems during the post season.
And it’s looking like they may end up playing the Boston Celtics in the first round. Smith has been the team’s best scorer and defender this season but it may be too much to ask of him in the playoffs. Especially if he is saddled with the task of defending the rejuvenated Kevin Garnett.
So the Hawks are hoping that Horford, Pachulia, and Radmanovic will all be able to contribute during their first round playoff matchup. Atlanta’s depth has kept them afloat throughout the regular season but it could be an even bigger factor in whether they advance to the second round for the fourth season in a row.
Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at RHall_TPFB@Yahoo.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.