One of my favorite articles on Peachtree Hoops is the weekly round-up of power rankings. Some commenters like to search for any slight against the Hawks to rage against the national media, but I like to get a quick glimpse of what other sports writers think of the Hawks. The consensus this past week was that most people were surprised the Hawks did not immediately fall apart without Horford, but that they will fall back in their record as the season goes on.
Normally, this would be a perfectly valid analysis that has been true for Atlanta for the last 4-5 years. This year, however, there are a couple of factors that clearly play out in Atlanta's favor in the regular season. The first is that the Hawks actually have a decent amount of depth that will serve them well in the condensed season. Teams cannot afford to play their starters almost 40 minutes a night and expect them to not break down. With the veteran additions to the bench, Drew has done a commendable job of keeping everyone fresh. He still leans on Joe a little too much for my liking, but his 36.2 minutes per game is below his average from 2003-2010 when he was regularly flirting with 40 minutes per game.
The second reason the Hawks' record will not fall back too much is the fact that they have fewer games against the West this year. The West is a bruising collection of good team after good team after good team. There are two divisions right now with only one team with a losing record. The Timberwolves are the worst team in the Northwest Division and they are 8-10. The East, on the other hand, is top heavy. There are six teams with at least 12 wins, and everyone else has 7 or less wins right now. By my count, the Hawks have 25 games remaining against teams that are .500 and under. While I don't think the Hawks will maintain their 10-0 record against these teams (especially since Boston and the Knicks are included), I also don't think it is unreasonable to expect a 17-8 record in those 25 games. The remaining 22 games are against teams above .500. Right now, the Hawks are 3-6 against those teams. Even if they maintain that pace, they will go 7-15.
This would leave the Hawks at the end of the season with a record of 37-29. Thus, if nothing goes horribly wrong or horribly right, the Hawks will compete for home court advantage in the first round. I wouldn't call that dropping off at all.