The Atlanta Hawks have a tenuous grip on the highly coveted No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. They might need to step up their play in the last week of the regular season to hold onto it.The Hawks look to avoid a season high-tying fourth consecutive defeat and strengthen their hold for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs when they visit the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.
Atlanta (43-34) has clinched its first winning finish since the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season with its highest win total since going 50-32 in 1997-98.
The Hawks, though, have dropped six of their last eight during a brutal stretch following a season-high seven-game winning streak. They shot 39.0 percent from the field in an 88-82 home loss to Orlando on Saturday.
Atlanta is two games ahead of fifth-place Miami and 2 1/2 games ahead of sixth-place Philadelphia.
The Hawks host the Heat in their second-to-last game of the regular season April 14. Though the Hawks play their other four remaining games against teams either already eliminated or likely soon to be out of the postseason mix, coach Mike Woodson isn't taking anything for granted.
"Those teams are not going to lie down and say, 'Here, Atlanta, you can have it,'" Woodson said after Saturday's defeat. "That's the positive behind tonight's loss. We're still in the driver's seat."
The Raptors (30-46) are not. They were eliminated from the playoff race and had their season-high six-game winning streak snapped Sunday with a 112-103 home loss to New York.
Toronto had made the playoffs each of the last two seasons after four straight in the lottery.
"Would I like to be there? Of course," said All-Star forward Chris Bosh, who had 31 points and 14 rebounds for his seventh straight double-double. "It's the best basketball in the world. This year we're going to have to watch."
Bosh has had plenty of individual success against Atlanta this season, averaging 26.0 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 50.9 percent (28-for-55) in three games. Toronto, however, has dropped two of those contests due in large part to Atlanta's backcourt.
Shooting guard Joe Johnson has averaged 22.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 16-for-31 (51.6 percent) in the victories. Point guard Mike Bibby has averaged 22.0 points and 6.7 assists overall in the series, shooting 61.0 percent from the field (25-for-41) and 57.1 percent from 3-point range (12-for-21).
The Hawks might need more strong play from their backcourt with forward Marvin Williams not close to returning. Woodson indicated over the weekend that Williams - averaging 14.0 points and 6.4 rebounds - has shown no signs he'll be able to come back soon after missing the last 14 games with a lower back injury.
Williams' absence could be partially related to Atlanta's recent road struggles. The Hawks, losers of three straight in Toronto, have lost eight of nine away from home.