The Atlanta Hawks are two wins away from their first playoff berth in nine years.Saturday, they'll get a taste of what awaits them if they can get in.
The Boston Celtics, who have been playing their starters sporadically since clinching home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs, may have reason to rest their stars when they visit Atlanta for a possible first-round preview.
The Hawks (37-42) haven't yet locked up a spot in the playoffs, but the Celtics can likely assume they are their most likely opponent. Atlanta leads Indiana by two games with three to play for the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference, though the Pacers hold the tiebreaker after winning the season series.
Whoever seizes the final spot will face Boston (63-16), which locked up the top seed last week.
"I think it's going to be a lot of hype around this game," Hawks forward Josh Smith said. "So we've just got to come out and keep our emotions down and understand that it's a game that we need to win, and we've got to come out and try to get it."
Atlanta reduced its magic number to two with a 116-104 win at New York on Friday, but the Pacers kept the pressure on with an 85-76 victory at Philadelphia.
If Indiana wins out - against Charlotte Saturday, at Washington Monday and against New York Wednesday - the Hawks will have to win two out of three to make the playoffs. Atlanta hosts Orlando and visits Miami this week.
"I can only imagine how Philips Arena would be rocking if we were to make the playoffs," Atlanta's Joe Johnson said. "Those are the type of imaginations that I have and hopefully if we everybody stays on the same page we can make that happen."
The Hawks haven't reached the postseason since 1999, but they've been playing like a playoff team lately. They've won seven of their last nine and 11 of 15, beating four Eastern playoff teams in the process.
Johnson had 34 points and Smith and Mike Bibby each added 24 on Friday, as the Hawks took a 19-point halftime lead and held on. Johnson has scored 30 or more points in three of the last four games, and is averaging 29.2 points in five April games.
The Celtics will undoubtedly be using Saturday's game to get a look at the Hawks.
"It becomes an eight-game series," Celtics guard Ray Allen said. "You get a free look at them, and once you go into that first game ... you just saw them."
But Atlanta may not have that luxury with Boston. Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have both played full games and rested for entire contests since the Celtics clinched. None of them played more than 25 minutes in their 102-86 win over Milwaukee on Friday.
"I think we've done a good job - we'll know later - of resting them throughout the season," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I told them, 'Legs over minds.' The veterans are smart enough, but we've still got to save their legs."
As a result, the Celtics have been spreading the offense around. Seven players scored in double figures against the Bucks, with Rajon Rondo leading the way with 16 points and 10 assists as the Celtics rebounded from Wednesday's loss at Washington.
The Celtics have still won eight of their last nine.
They also have beaten the Hawks twice at home, and are seeking their first sweep of Atlanta since the 2002-03 season.