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Suns vs Hawks Tonight at 7PM

Outsiders is back! Today we look at the teamwork juggernauts of the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks. This is for all the folks who think this season will be a wasted one if the Suns miss the playoffs for the 5th consecutive season. Being slightly above average? The Hawks know all about that.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s opening monologue is simply something to chew on for the rest of the season, especially if the Suns miss the playoffs and things start getting dark here on Bright Side.

Before this season the Hawks had created a dynasty in terms of being above average.  Between 2007-08 and 2013-14 the Hawks made the Eastern Conference playoffs seven straight seasons. They never made the conference finals, went 3-7 in playoff series overall, and were never a top 2 seed in the conference. In fact, they were the 8th seed twice, the 6th seed once, and the 5th seed twice in those seven trips. Their record in playoff games was 24-36 during that span, and their record in three trips to the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs was 2-12. Their best draft pick during the streak of playoff appearances was Jeff Teague, a 17th overall pick in 2009. Their highest draft pick was Adreian Payne last year at 15th overall, you might remember him from the Phoenix Suns game against the Timberwolves two nights ago.

The Atlanta Hawks are 50-13 heading into tonight’s game.

Since 2007-2008 the Sacramento Kings have missed the playoffs every single year. They have a combined record of 182-376 in that span of time, and have drafted in the top ten every season but the first season of the span, when they drafted 12th. Their average selection has been in the top 6. They used one of those picks to secure the mercurial but often dominant Demarcus Cousins, by far and away their best pick in the span. You may remember him from every single hypothetical superstar trade conversation on Bright Side of the Sun since December.

The Sacramento Kings are 18-34 currently.

It looks as though the Suns aren’t going to make the postseason, again. A lot of conversation has portrayed 2014-15 as a wasted season with the Suns heading for the 13th/14th pick in the draft—again-- despite Markieff Morris and TJ Warren being alumni of the late lottery. Sam Hinkie and Sam Presti have convinced NBA fans that bottoming out and hitting homeruns with big draft picks is the best way to compete if a team doesn’t already have a superstar. The middle of the draft is the anti-contender zone. However, I simply find it hard to believe a team should ever try to lose its way to the top. The Splash Brothers weren’t top 5 picks. The Grizzlies have rarely been bad in the last decade and they have not drafted an All-Star on their current roster. The top 10 frequently has an equal number of busts as it does successful NBA starters on playoff teams, and rarely has more than 1 superstar in a class. Do Suns fans really want to be miserable for three years on a 10% bet every year? Is that bet really better than the alternative?

Suns vs Hawks tonight! 7pm! Let’s see what the Outsiders think!

What Vegas Thinks: Home Dog (Atlanta -5, O/U 205.5)

Spoiler alert: The Atlanta Hawks are really, really good. Even after a lopsided loss to the newly rejuvenated Denver Nuggets the Hawks are multiple possession favorites on the road against the Phoenix Suns. Vegas books have a lot of interesting rules and follow a lot of quirky trends that can influence betting lines one way or the other. At this point in the season there are algorithms to figure out how every single team does in every single scenario and Vegas is at its peak accuracy rate because of this. One really simple rule? Teams with 50 wins are favored over teams with 34 wins. Home or away.

Vegas Predics: Hawks 105 Suns 100

What the National Media Thinks: Like vs Love

The national media absolutely loves the Atlanta Hawks. They can’t get enough of a team with a coach whose degree is from the Popovich Academy of Passing, with no superstar, who has put together a bunch of roles players getting the absolute most out of each other. You hear things such as "The Hawks play basketball the right way" and—my personal favorite cliché—"The whole is worth more than the sum of its parts." The Cleveland Cavaliers are where hero ball happens, and the Atlanta Hawks are where teamwork happens. Profiles like this one from the New York Times are finding interesting new hot takes on where this insane season is coming from, despite the fact we already know where it came from. Al Hortford is a top 5 Center. Milsap and Teague are top 10 players at their positions performing at nearly top 5 levels. Korver can’t miss. The ball movement is great, the effort is consistent, and the role players are stepping up. The equation for the Hawks success isn’t complicated at all, but the national media is trying to make it seem that way. The media can’t help it, they are in love and love makes you do crazy things.

The national media doesn’t particularly like the Atlanta Hawks though. In Vegas and in the national narrative the Cavaliers are still favorites. Hoops Habit did a pretty good job of representing the narrative here. The Hawks may be worth more than the sum of their parts, but LeBron James is worth more than the Hawks. It’s one thing to love the way a team plays, to give them regular season praise, and to bust out a few teamwork clichés for them. Predicting them to beat LeBron and make a real run at the championship? The relationship between Atlanta and the national media just isn’t ready to take that step.

What Atlanta Hawks fans think: Yawn

The Atlanta Hawks and their fans are ready for the playoffs, and more than a bit bored of the regular season at this point. The number one seed in the East has all but been locked up, they have almost four times as many wins as losses, and they had four All-Stars a month ago. They have beaten every Western Conference contender, and most of them on the road. They have an offense that purrs, a defense that competes, and a roster that gels. Watching this Hawks team has truly been a treat, even if the national media has grossly exaggerated that treat.

The best way to sum up the Atlanta Hawks season so far and how their fans feel would be to read this game recap by SB Nation brother site writer Kris Willis. The loss to the Nuggets was ugly, but within the first paragraph Willis makes it clear that he isn’t worried. He aptly points out that March constitutes the "dog days" of the NBA season and that games like the one the Hawks played on Wednesday night have not come around often. The Atlanta fan base—often maligned—has settled in and is ready for the true theatre coming this April. If the Suns win tonight, they keep their hopes alive to be there with them.