Atlanta Hawks: Finding their groove at exactly the right time

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The Atlanta Hawks were one of the surprise packages in the Eastern Conference last season as they finished ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers with an impressive record of 60-22. 

They may have run out of steam in the Conference Finals, as they were swept by LeBron James and Co., however, their story was one that will be remembered as they shot the lights out throughout the campaign to top the east after 82 games. 

Such was their unexpected rise to the top, Mike Budenholzer was named Coach of the Year despite Steve Kerr ending Golden State's 40-year wait for a title in his first season at the helm in the Bay. 

Throughout the opening stages of the 2015-16 campaign, it seemed like the Hawks were struggling with a hangover after their exploits in the previous season and, as the year went on, it simply looked like their achievements of 2014-15 were a fluke. They looked half the force they had been a year earlier as Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and Co. failed to recreate their exhilarating performances. 

However, when they needed it most, the Georgia-based franchise have turned it on, and can now be considered one of the major threats in a conference that sees the Cleveland Cavaliers struggling to assert their superiority.

The defending Eastern Conference champions were expected to run away with it as odds-on favourites to make the Finals. But a season filled with internal issues and inconsistent performances has given the chasing pack a glimmer of hope. 

The Toronto Raptors have been tipped to capitalise on Cleveland's problems, but the Hawks have the experience of last season behind them and will be quietly confident they can make it one step further than 12-months ago after finally finding their best form. 

Since the All-Star break, the one-time champions have been 14-6; their best run through a 20-game stretch since the new campaign began, and their success has been built on the combined team spirit than won them so many plaudits in 2015.

Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague have all been averaging in excess of 15 points per game since the break in Toronto, where Millsap made his first appearance in the showpiece event. 

Teague, who was rumoured to be on the way out of Atlanta, has also averaged six dimes per night while the two frontcourt players have been pulling down almost nine rebounds each per outing.

Currently sitting third in the east, the Hawks can cement their place with a continued run of good form. If they are to enjoy a long run in the postseason, they will need their cohesive team unit to continue performing on a nightly basis. 

Along with the aforementioned trio, Kent Bazemore is producing by far his best form since a short stint with the L.A. Lakers, averaging 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds throughout the season.

Kyle Korver may not be having his best year, but the shooting guard still possesses a deadly threat from range. Backed up by the likes of Thabo Sefolosha, Dennis Schroder and Tiago Splitter off the bench, the Hawks will fear nobody come crunch time.

They have the experience of a playoff run and can lay down a marker with two upcoming games against the Cavs before the end of the season. With the Eastern Conference wide open, it's an exciting time to be a Hawks fan. 

Jeff Teague
Atlanta Hawks
Southeast Division
Eastern Conference
Paul Millsap
Kyle Korver

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