The Atlanta Hawks (17-14) are in town today, facing the Celtics (13-17) in a 1 pm New Years Eve matinee at the Garden. As odd as it may seem, this game could have significant playoff ramifications, and go a long ways towards determining which direction each team is heading going forward. I know that sounds crazy to say just 30 games into the season, but the Hawks are at a crossroads: after proving themselves to be the third best squad in the East, they are now faced with the prospect of playing the rest of the season without Al Horford, their leading scorer and rebounder.
Atlanta managed to get by the Bobcats in OT in their first contest without their All-Star center on Saturday, but then fell to the lowly Magic on Sunday. A win today could get the Hawks back on track and help keep their ship afloat for the time being, while a loss might send them on a path spiraling downward in the standings.
Boston has played just once in the past nine days (a 103-100 victory over Cleveland on Saturday), and used that to their advantage by climbing to the East's #7 spot as other playoff "contenders" stumble. A win this afternoon would vault the C's past Charlotte into 6th place, and possibly as high as 4th by reclaiming the Atlantic Division lead if Toronto falls in Chicago.
With the Celtics likely receiving Atlanta's 1st round pick in the draft, this is a win-win scenario for lottery fans. A loss coupled with a Bulls victory would put Boston back on the outside of the playoff race looking in, while a win will help improve the Hawk's draft position.