The NBA playoff watch is on in Atlanta, where the Hawks and Trail Blazers take the next step in fighting their postseason lives.
Actually, a lot of bids are on the line, as everyone from the Knicks to Cavaliers to Grizzlies to Mavericks to Suns will be watching.
That’s because the Hawks, who have lost four straight, are just two games in front of the Knicks and 3.5 in front of the Cavs for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Blazers, losers of three straight, own the No. 5 seed in the West — but are just 2.5 games out of the ninth spot. As you know, whoever finishes ninth gets a free trip to the draft lottery (and misses the playoffs).
Tip-off for this NBA version of March Madness is 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Hawks (31-39) can attribute part of their struggles to the loss of sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who has missed the previous four games with back spasms. He is expected to miss his fifth Thursday, although the team has yet to provide an official update. (Interestingly, Korver’s record 127-game streak of making at least one 3-pointer ended when these teams met in Portland.)
Valuable big man Pero Antic could also miss the game. Antic sprained his ankle in the Hawks’ loss Wednesday at Minnesota. Both Korver and Antic appear to be game-time decisions.
As for the Blazers (45-27), at least part of their struggles result from the loss of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who injured his back March 12 vs. the Spurs. The Blazers are 3-4 since — but fortunately for them, Aldridge will try to give it a go tonight.
The Hawks are 6-18 in their last 24. That sounds even worse when you consider they went on a five-game winning streak in there. The Blazers are 3-7 in their previous 10. But one of these teams has to win tonight, and when it does, the playoff race in both conferences will have a whole new look.