2021 NBA Southeast Division Preview: The Hawks are going to break your heart

The Atlanta Hawks appeared in the franchise’s second Eastern Conference Finals last season, and their fans are preparing for what they think could be another long playoff run this year. In 2015-16, the Hawks ran into LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East Finals, resulting in a 4-0 Cavs sweep.

Should the Hawks be expected to improve on last season’s success? No, not necessarily. I’m sure fans around ATL expect an improvement, especially since they now have a young bona fide star in Trae Young. Along with other young talents like John Collins and Cam Reddish, the Hawks seem to have their core in place for the next handful of years.

Why is heartbreak on the horizon for the Hawks and their fanbase? Last year, the Hawks were a fun story, especially in the playoffs when they knocked off the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. To the surprise of many, they dominated the NY Knicks in the first round, making light work of them in five games. If Young doesn’t injure his ankle stepping on a referee in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks may have wound up playing for the title against the Phoenix Suns. They were able to capitalize on the breaks they received while navigating through the postseason.

It’s going to be hard to duplicate that again this year. The biggest threat to the Hawks is easily the Miami Heat. And they’ve beefed up their backcourt by adding veteran guard Kyle Lowry. If Victor Oladipo can stay on the court, the Heat should run away with this division. Miami also lured P.J. Tucker away from the Milwaukee Bucks and signed veteran Markieff Morris as well. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, and Tyler (he’s lost his mind) Herro are returning.

Don’t be surprised to see the Hawks take a couple of steps backward in playoff seeding. And don’t think for one minute they have another run in them like last season. Too much will need to fall perfectly in line to match last year’s postseason accomplishments.

I also expect the Charlotte Hornets to continue improving on what they achieved in ‘20-21. LaMelo Ball proved many people wrong and showed them he should be mentioned in the conversation of up-and-coming great point guards.

Then, of course, you have the big dogs in the east that I haven’t mentioned, like Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Philly, and I think Boston bounces back this year with the return of Jaylen Brown. The Chicago Bulls are another team I think can make a playoff push and should battle the Hawks, Hornets, Knicks, and Pacers for the fifth and sixth seeds in the east.

So, I’m not predicting total disaster for the Hawks, but I don’t think there’s any way they get the number of breaks necessary for them to find themselves back in conference finals. Too many other things around the Hawks will need to break down for them to duplicate last year’s postseason run, and I can’t see this team getting that many breaks two years in a row. 

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