With the end of a nine-year playoff drought in sight, the Atlanta Hawks may be playing their best basketball at the right time.
The Hawks will look to match their longest winning streak of the season and move a step closer to their first postseason appearance since 1999 on Wednesday when they host the Toronto Raptors, who are even closer to clinching a playoff spot despite a disappointing March.
Atlanta had been engaged in a tight race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but the Hawks (34-40) have reduced their magic number to six by winning four straight and eight of their last 10.
With a win Wednesday, they would match their highest single-season total since 1997-98 - one year before they last qualified for the playoffs during a lockout-shortened campaign.
The Hawks have been especially good at home recently, winning a season-high five straight at Philips Arena. But with a 116-99 road triumph over Memphis on Monday, Atlanta is in position for its first five-game winning streak since December.
Josh Smith had 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting, also adding eight rebounds and six assists, as the Hawks led by as many as 38 in the third quarter. They shot 55.8 percent from the field while piling up 28 assists after totaling 32 the night before in a 114-109 win over New York.
“We were moving the basketball so well,” Hawks guard Joe Johnson said. “We were posting, and they were doubling. We were kicking, making the extra pass and getting wide open shots. That’s all ball movement, and that was the key for us.”
They’ll look to continue their surge against a Raptors team that has allowed an average of 109.0 points in its last seven road games, losing the first six. But five of those games were played without Chris Bosh, who had missed 10 due to a knee injury.
With Bosh healthy again, the Raptors (38-36) have won three of four to move closer to their second straight playoff berth. Bosh had 32 points and eight rebounds in a 104-100 win at Charlotte on Monday, and is averaging 27.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in his last three games.
“He’s huge,” Bobcats guard Jason Richardson said. “He’s their leader. He’s their superstar. He does a lot of things and had a great game.”
Bosh has also improved Toronto’s defense as he’s become more vocal on the court. The Raptors have allowed an average of just 92.6 points in the last seven games after giving up 108.4 in 10 games without Bosh.
“Sometimes I catch myself being quiet, but then I have to pick it back up and start talking again,” said Bosh, who played one season at Georgia Tech. “I’m not a talker by nature. … So I know I have to step outside of myself because I really like winning.”
The Raptors, who are tied for fifth in the East with Washington, have beaten Atlanta four straight times, including two wins this season as they seek their first sweep of the Hawks since 2001-02.
Bosh had 35 points and nine rebounds in the most recent meeting, an 89-78 win on Jan. 18 in Toronto.