Hawks coach Mike Woodson loves this time of year.His team is in the thick of the playoff hunt and that means every game is more important than the next.
"This is our version of March Madness," said Woodson. "And this is what these guys signed up for. This is what we all signed up for. You want to be playing meaningful games this time of year as opposed to the alternative."
The 98-85 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday was crucial for the 76ers, who edged the Hawks 2-1 in their season series and sent a strong message to the team they could meet in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Hawks still have a cushion for fourth place in the conference, and the home-court advantage for the playoffs that comes with it. But the 76ers own the psychological edge if the two teams do meet in the postseason, having won their last two meetings.
For all the Hawks have accomplished this season, they showed Tuesday they're still vulnerable on the road, where they are just 14-23.
They haven't served up a road win over a playoff bound team in weeks, their last being a thorough beating of a fading Detroit team Feb. 11, just before the All-Star break.
"I don't care where we have to do it or how we get it done," Hawks swingman Mo Evans said. "We have to find a way. There's too much at stake these days for us to let anything slip by us. That's why (Sunday's win over the Lakers) was so important."
76ERS 98, HAWKS 85: April Fool's Day came a day early for the Hawks.
How else could they explain away their inept performance for three quarters in a game of such importance?
Save for a furious, Josh Smith-fueled eight-minute stretch that saw the Hawks cut a 16-point lead to just one, the Philadelphia 76ers wiped the Wachovia Center floor with the Hawks.
For much of the night the Hawks played like a team still floating on the fumes from Sunday's home win over the Los Angeles Lakers, not a team hungry to finish off a huge month with yet another win over a playoff-bound team.
Turnovers and a lack of focus on the defensive end doomed the Hawks early. It was a similar formula to the one the 76ers used to run past the Hawks in their last meeting, a 109-94 Philly win Jan. 11 at Philips Arena.
Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby were a combined 0-for-10 from the floor by halftime and the Hawks trailed 51-37, the only sign of life being Smith's 15 points.
It wasn't until late in the third quarter that Smith got any real offensive help against Andre Iguodala and the Sixers' balanced attack. But the Hawks could get no closer than a point in the fourth quarter.
Smith was magnificent on both ends of the floor. He made 12 straight buckets during one stretch but had to go it alone for much of the night.
He finished with a season-high 33 points on 13-for-15 shooting from the floor. He was also 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Flip Murray added 19 off the bench. But Johnson and Bibby were a combined 5-for-18 from the floor.