The Atlanta Hawks didn't get to clinch their first playoff berth in nine years in front of their fans, but that's alright with them.Instead, the Hawks' final home game will be a celebration, as they face the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, one day after Atlanta secured the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks entered Monday with a magic number of one, and even though they didn't play, their first trip to the postseason since 1998-99 was guaranteed when Indiana lost 117-110 at Washington.
"It's huge for our franchise, when you talk about a young team coming together," fourth-year coach Mike Woodson said. "It's huge for the guys that have put in their time and worked hard. We've worked hard to overcome some things as a unit to get this team where it needs to be."
The achievement caps a long stretch of rebuilding, but the last three seasons have seen steady improvement for Atlanta (37-43) after the team went just 13-69 in 2004-05. The Hawks will now face top-seeded Boston - another team that missed the playoffs last season - in the first round.
"Being here for my fourth year, and going through some of those rough times we went through, it feels great to have made it and to get a taste of what playoff basketball is like," Atlanta forward Josh Childress said.
Despite Saturday's 99-89 home loss to the Celtics, the Hawks earned their way into the postseason by winning 11 of their last 16 games, with former Boston draft pick Joe Johnson leading the way.
Johnson has averaged 25.3 points - more than three above his season average - in the last 16 games, and has three 30-point games in the last five.
"It's a great feeling, but we still have to worry about ourselves right now," Johnson said. "We have to handle our business for these last two games to get ready for the playoffs. Just because we're in doesn't mean we can relax."
The Hawks close the season Wednesday at Miami, but first they'll face a fellow playoff-bound squad in the Magic (50-30). Orlando is locked into the No. 3 seed in the East, and learned Tuesday that it will face Toronto in the first round.
With its games largely meaningless in the standings, the Magic have played erratically lately, dropping five of nine - a stretch that includes a home loss to Minnesota and losses at New York and Atlanta.
The Hawks beat the Magic 98-90 at home on March 22, and lead the season series 2-1, having also won 98-87 in Orlando on Dec. 10.
The Magic still secured their first 50-win season since 1995-96 with a 104-84 win at Chicago on Sunday. Hedo Turkoglu had 24 points and eight assists and Dwight Howard added 19 points as Orlando pulled away in the fourth quarter.
"I'm surprised we haven't won more than 50 this year," Howard said. "I think we should have won at least 55. To win 50 is big. Every year, we've progressed."
With Howard leading the NBA with 14.3 rebounds per game and Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis combining for 386 3-pointers - the most of any duo in the NBA - the Magic have clinched their first Southeast Division title and improved by at least 10 wins from last season.
"They have a powerful player inside, perimeter shooting and some bigs who run the pick-and-roll," Bulls interim coach Jim Boylan said. "That puts a lot of pressure on your defense."