The way the playoff brackets would set up right now, the Hawks and Cavaliers could see each other in a potential second-round matchup.And you can bet it was on the minds of players and coaches from both teams Saturday afternoon when they hooked up in the final matchup of the regular season at Quicken Loans Arena.
"Without a doubt you're thinking like that," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
He pointed to a late-April game against Indiana during his last season as an assistant in Detroit as the prime example of why.
The Pacers and Pistons were battling all season for Eastern Conference supremacy during that 2003-04 season. But they only played once after the Hawks traded Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons at the trade deadline.
The Pistons won the game by 30, sending a clear message to their Central Division rivals about what was in store for the playoffs. The Pistons beat the Pacers in six games in the Eastern Conference finals that year on their way to the NBA title.
"The Pacers were saying at the time that the last regular-season game didn't mean anything to them, but we knew it did because Rasheed Wallace was the difference for us in that game and he would be in the playoffs," Woodson said.
The Hawks lost the season series to Cleveland 3-1, including losing both games in Cleveland. They also dropped an 88-87 game to the Cavs on March 1 at Philips Arena.
But if they want to do anything in the playoffs beyond the first round, provided they secure home-court advantage and treat it as most higher seeds have in the past, they'll need to find a way to snatch a game on someone else's floor.
"That's the only way you move on," Woodson said. "The only way."
CAVALIERS 102, HAWKS 96: White uniforms might have served the Hawks better.
They wore them every game for nearly two weeks at Philips Arena and didn't lose.
They wore their road blue jerseys for 48 minutes Saturday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena and never had a chance.
Cleveland snapped Atlanta's winning streak at seven games, toying with the Hawks early and then holding them off late before a sellout crowd of 20,562.
The Hawks' momentum was halted after 14 days of stellar play. At 41-29, they are still on course for their best season in over a decade.
But they proved to be no match for the league's top team, the Cavaliers, who are 56-13 overall and 32-1 at home.
The Hawks' deficit was as many as 24 before a garbage-time rally made the final score appear much closer than the game really was.
"You've got to be able to hang with them," Hawks center Al Horford said. "And we have to be able to run our offense and really make them defend. That's the only way to stay in the game here because they are so amped up to play here. This is a tough place to play."