Hawks clinch playoff berth for 10th consecutive season

Feb 4, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) shoots the ball against the Orlando Magic in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Two surprising victories and the Chicago Bulls’ loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday evening sealed the Atlanta Hawks’ late-season playoff push earlier than expected.

The franchise booked a trip to its 10th straight postseason, the second-longest active streak in the NBA.

Only Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs can relate to Atlanta’s string of playoff appearances — a run that began during former star forward Al Hereford’s rookie season when Mike Woodson was the head coach. Two head coaches and a flurry of roster moves later, the 2016-17 Hawks, flaws and all, enter the postseason riding high.

Atlanta never fell out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture despite ranking 30th league-wide in offensive efficiency since Feb. 1 and claiming a negative net rating for most of the season, but Mike Budenholzer’s group was far from a guarantee. Over the past week, though, Atlanta’s fortunes changed. Despite dealing with a rash of injuries, the Hawks took down the Celtics and Cavaliers — the latter victory achieved without a single starter available, taking down the full-strength defending champions in stunning fashion.

The Hawks currently sit at No. 5 in the Eastern Conference, but their final three games (Cavaliers, Hornets, Pacers) will ultimately determine their postseason seeding.