Which playoff foe should the Hawks want?

The Hawks are 39-32 and tied for fifth place in the East (with Chicago). Hypothetically speaking, let’s assume they get the No. 6 or 7 seed in the playoffs.

(Half-joking) Which is what they want.

Obviously, it’s a team’s professional obligation to play to win all the time and collect the most victories possible. But from a matchup standpoint, it’d benefit them to avoid the Heat as long as possible, right?

As a 6-seed, if the Hawks get out of Round 1 (Eastern quarters), then you avoid the Heat in Round 2 (opposite side of the bracket). Of course, if you look at Atlanta’s possible matchups in Round 1, whether it’s New York or Indiana, you really don’t want to play the Pacers, either. They’re far better off if they play Chicago, or even New York or Brooklyn in that first round. The way the Hawks are playing, they will probably end up at the 5, 6 or 7 spot.

Why are the Pacers a tough matchup for the Hawks?

They are strong and physical. They are big and physical. With Zaza Pachulia out of the lineup (Achilles), they don’t have the size or girth to match up with Indiana in a long series. Sure, they have Al Horford and Josh Smith and Ivan Johnson, but the Pacers run out one big man after another, after another. They’re a big physical team, which is exactly why they give Miami so much trouble. Indiana can play Miami physically … in a way that most teams cannot.

Is there any team in the East that can beat Miami in a seven-game series? And what would have to happen, barring catastrophic injury, for that to occur?

Nobody can beat the Heat in a playoff series, whether it’s five, six or seven games. But the Pacers would give the Heat the most trouble: They’re so big, and they keep Miami from running so much. The Heat just takes off on fast breaks all the time, but they can’t get the loose balls and rebounds, as much, against the Pacers to run like that.

Recently, the Hawks have had some games where every starter logged 39, 40 minutes, kind of invoking an “Iron Five” mentality to get wins. With that in mind, can Atlanta take a playoff series, with only five, six and maybe even seven guys getting all the minutes?

They will pretty much have to. And unfortunately for the Hawks, their two best bench players (Louis Williams and Pachulia) are out … so, they’re going to have to tighten things up and make sure that no one else gets injured before the playoffs. If Devin Harris or Jeff Teague tweak anything, the Hawks could be in a world of hurt. But right now — knock on wood — they’re both healthy.

The Hawks just signed guard Shelvin Mack for the rest of the season. Does he bring a dimension to the team they didn’t have previously?

He brings relief to the guard position, something that once Lou Williams went down (knee injury, done for the year), they didn’t have on the bench. This is why Coach Drew was only starting either Devin Harris or Jeff Teague — he couldn’t afford to keep both out there for extended periods of time. He had no other true point guard. Mack gives Drew flexibility with rotations.