Horford’s return could mean a deep run for Hawks


UPDATE: Horford is now telling a different tale than he told yesterday. He told Yahoo! that there is a very small chance he will play in the postseason. We’ll just have to watch and see what really happens.

A tweet from Jeff Schultz: “Al Horford said Sunday he was 70% sure he’d play Celtics series. Now says he may miss all playoffs. I give up. bit.ly/I0JCUq

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The Atlanta Hawks have done so much better in light of Al Horford’s injury than I ever thought they could.

After their star big man went down with a torn pectoral muscle early in the season, I wrote off one of the oldest rosters in the league. They wouldn’t be able to tread water in a shortened season because they had a game nearly every day.

These guys would never be able to stay healthy, I said.

But, happily, I was wrong. These Hawks have the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, and they’re on pace to host the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

Yesterday, Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Horford is slated to return to the court for the postseason, possibly even the season-finale against Dallas. While he may not be able to play 40 minutes per game just yet, the idea of Horford on the floor got me thinking.

Could the addition of Horford finally yield a deep postseason run?

In his 11 games before the injury, Horford averaged seven rebounds per game, which is second on the roster to only Josh Smith, who picked up the slack and has pulled in 9.6 rebounds per game this year. The Hawks might not get seven rebounds a game from Horford in the postseason, but they will get his defense back and a hard-to-defend jumper.

And in the playoffs, that could be the difference.

The Celtics are a very weak No. 4 seed — the Hawks have a better record at No. 5, for starters. They have several beat-up stars that are at the end of their career, and if they can’t be productive, this series could actually get pretty ugly.

Especially when you consider the Hawks’ 21-10 record at home this season. If the Hawks can hold on to the home-court advantage, Atlanta has no reason to drop that series.

Then, the Hawks would likely face the Chicago Bulls in the second round. In the postseason, if a team is without their leader (or even if he isn’t close to healthy), it becomes anybody’s series to win. And would you look at that — Chicago’s MVP-caliber point guard, Derrick Rose, has foot and ankle injuries and has missed a huge chunk of the season.

To be fair to the Bulls, they have done just fine without Rose. They’re 48-16, good enough for the top seed in the East, and their 88.4 points per game allowed is the best in the conference. While they wait for their best shooter to get healthy, they’re winning through defense.

Here’s the good news — the Hawks can win a low-scoring game because they play defense, too.

Is it likely that the Hawks will play in the Eastern Conference Finals? Probably not, based on their track record.

But if Horford returns and contributes to the playoff effort, it is possible.

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