The Nets are the fourth seed and will host the fifth seed, but even entering the final night of the regular season, it's still up in the air.
The Bulls and the Hawks currently have the same record, 44-37. The Bulls own the tiebreaker, though, and last night, the Hawks made a curious decision and may have tipped their hand.
The Hawks hosted the Toronto Raptors but ending up losing the game by 17 points. Their starters played a total of 80 minutes, so it certainly does not seem as though Atlanta was playing to win. The thought may have been that the Hawks either preferred a first round matchup with the Pacers over the Nets, or that the Hawks—expecting to win their first round series—want to avoid the Miami Heat in the second round.
Either way, last night's Hawks loss makes it very likely that the Nets will draw the Bulls in the first round since now, the only way the Hawks can move up to fifth would be to beat the Knicks tonight and for the Bulls to lose tonight. The Bulls host the Washington Wizards.
The Knicks have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the past month, but having nothing to play for, will rest Carmelo Anthony for a second straight game. Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are also going to sit.
But by sitting their starters for most of Tuesday night's game against the Raptors and taking that critical, the Hawks seem to be playing for the sixth seed. The way it looks right now is that the Nets will end up drawing the Bulls in the first round.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
For the Nets, both the Bulls and Hawks present a challenge in the first round of the playoffs. Either way though, the Nets will have home court advantage.
The Nets were 2-2 this season against the Hawks. Each team split their two home games to arrive at this record.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn only managed a 1-3 record against the Bulls this year. The Nets only win came at Barclays Center.
The Bulls are one of the top defensive teams in the league and held the Nets to just 87.5 points per game in the four matchups this season. The last time the Bulls visited Barclays Center on March 4, they put forth a valiant effort and erased a first half deficit to defeat the Nets, 92-90. The Bulls played without All-Star Joakim Noah, reserve Taj Gibson, and obviously, Derrick Rose—whose status is still uncertain as we head into play on the final night of the regular season.
Atlanta’s fast guards—Devin Harris and Jeff Teague—gave the Nets fits this year and led the Hawks to scoring 105-plus points in each of their wins over Brooklyn. Like the Bulls, the Hawks proved that they can win in Brooklyn. Back on March 17, the Nets could have pulled into a virtual tie with the Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead, but lost to the Hawks, 105-93.
Since then, the Nets have increased their scoring, and Deron Williams continues to play at a high-level. It does not seem likely that the Nets will draw the Hawks in the first round, but it remains to be seen.
The Bulls are a scary team, especially since they are out to prove that they can win in the postseason without Derrick Rose.
Again, both teams would be tough, but the Nets probably match up better with the Hawks.
To reiterate, the only way the Hawks can move up to fifth (and play the Nets) would be if they win at Madison Square Garden tonight AND if the Bulls lose at home to the Wizards.
If both teams win, or if both teams lose, the Nets will play their first round series against the Bulls. The schedule is likely to be released over the next 24 hours.
Jim Mancari is a Contributor to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.
Moke Hamilton contributed