After clinching a playoff berth in thrilling style, the Atlanta Hawks can focus on securing home-court advantage in the first round and making a push for the Southeast Division title.
A matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers could help them toward both goals, as the Hawks look to sweep the season series for the first time since 1996-97 on Friday night at the Wachovia Center.
Atlanta (46-25) thought it had clinched its third consecutive postseason trip with a 119-114 overtime victory over San Antonio on Sunday night, but a scenario was discovered that could have kept the Hawks out.
They lost in Milwaukee the next evening and were facing the possibly of another overtime Wednesday night against Southeast-leading Orlando, as the game was tied at 84 with nine seconds left.
“It’s good for our confidence to know we can actually beat this team,” Smith said. “They have the best center in the game. They have outstanding shooters. But we were able to play ‘em full court every minute.”
The win cut Atlanta’s deficit in the division to 3 1/2 games with 11 remaining - one more than the Magic. The Hawks are also close to sewing up a second straight top-four finish in the Eastern Conference, which would give them home court in the opening round.
Atlanta relied on that advantage last season to win a playoff series for the first time in 10 years, defeating Miami in seven games. The Hawks are tied for third in the East with Boston and lead fifth-place Milwaukee by 6 1/2 games.
Philadelphia (25-47) aided Atlanta’s cause Wednesday night with a 101-86 road victory over the Bucks that snapped a three-game slide.
“We were very spirited,” coach Eddie Jordan told the league’s Web site. “Our team just fought. We had a lot of confidence, played together and played aggressively. We did well defensively, and we just kept it going.”
The 76ers, though, have not won back-to-back games since a season-high five-game win streak Jan. 31-Feb. 9. They are 5-16 since that run, with a 112-93 loss in Atlanta on March 3 among the defeats.
In the teams’ first matchup of 2009-10, Philadelphia fell 100-86 at home Nov. 27 and enters Friday with seven losses in eight games at the Wachovia Center. The 76ers have dropped three of the past four meetings there with the Hawks.
The key to a victory for Philadelphia appears to be reaching 101 points. Since Jan. 22, the 76ers are 10-1 when they surpass 100 and 1-18 when they fall short.
They will face a Hawks team that is allowing 97.5 points per game and has yielded more than 100 points to two of its last nine opponents.
The Hawks are expected to have top reserve Jamal Crawford(notes) available Friday. Crawford has averaged a team-high 22.0 points against Philadelphia this season, although he shot 37.9 percent in his past four games and was 4 of 14 from the field Wednesday, finishing with 11 points.