Nets-Hawks Preview

It's hard to imagine the Atlanta Hawks having a preference in who they'll face from the crop of five likely overmatched options for the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed, but it's safe to say they don't want to see the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs. As well as he's played lately, Brook Lopez isn't the reason why. The surging Nets missing the postseason would give Atlanta a shot at a top-three draft pick, which should provide plenty of motivation for the Hawks to emerge from their current malaise Saturday night at Philips Arena in the first of two meetings in five days. Atlanta (56-19) has had the East's top spot wrapped up for a week but it's been a foregone conclusion for much longer, so it's hard to find much room for concern in a current 3-5 stretch that's seen coach Mike Budenholzer begin to rest his starters. The Hawks, however, have plenty of incentive to win Saturday and again Wednesday at Barclays Center. As part of the deal that sent Johnson to the Nets (35-40) back in 2012, Atlanta got the right to swap first-round picks with Brooklyn in 2014 and 2015. There was no need to flip spots last summer, but the Hawks - headed for the 29th pick this June - will be jumping at the chance this time. The Nets barely making the playoffs would still give Atlanta the 15th or 16th pick, but should they miss out the Hawks will be getting a lottery pick that has a slim chance of landing in the top three. While that would make the front office do cartwheels, Atlanta's players are more focused on returning to top form with the postseason just two weeks away. Nine Hawks played about 24 minutes apiece in Tuesday's 105-95 loss at Detroit. "We have to get our mojo back," forward DeMarre Carroll said Thursday. "We're not taking any games for granted. Each time we step on the floor, we're just trying to keep jelling and keep our rhythm." At this point, the Hawks are going to need some help to keep the Nets out of it. Brooklyn has won six straight for the first time since a seven-game run in January 2013 after Friday's 114-109 victory over Toronto, and it's currently in seventh - one game ahead of Miami and 1 1/2 up on ninth-place Boston. Deron Williams led the way with a season-best 31 points and 11 assists, Thaddeus Young had 29 and Lopez continued his tear with 30 points and 17 rebounds. "We're figuring out how to help each other and play for each other," coach Lionel Hollins told the team's official website. "It's fun to watch." Lopez is averaging 27.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks as Brooklyn has won eight of nine. From the start of the season until March 19, the Nets were outscored by 4.3 points per 100 possessions with Lopez on the floor. In this 8-1 stretch, Brooklyn is a plus-8.0 in that category. His 38 points in two games against Atlanta haven't meant much thanks to what the Hawks have done from deep. Budenholzer's team hit 13 3s in a 98-75 win at Brooklyn on Dec. 5, then knocked down 12 in a 113-102 home victory Jan. 28. Paul Millsap has chipped in everywhere, scoring 15 of his 45 in the two wins beyond the arc and knocking down 18 of 20 free throws. Millsap and the other starters figure to get bigger minutes Saturday, and the Hawks may get a boost to a bench that will be without Dennis Schroder for a second straight game. Mike Scott could return from a left toe injury that's cost him the past 11 games. Brooklyn's Alan Anderson won't make the trip after spraining his left ankle Friday.