The Atlanta Hawks aren't going to make the playoffs this season. But they could have an influence on the plans for those who are headed for postseason, such as the Philadelphia 76ers, who visit Atlanta on Saturday.
The Hawks caused problems for the Utah Jazz on Thursday, knocking them off 117-114 and throwing them into a four-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference.
Philadelphia's position is less fluid; the Sixers are solidly in third place in the Eastern Conference, but don't want to see momentum slow from their current six-game winning streak.
"We know that we can beat anybody in the league," Philadelphia's Ben Simmons said after Wednesday's 118-115 win over the Boston Celtics. "It's just a matter of doing it and having it on paper and having that confidence going into the playoffs."
But Atlanta, which plays Eastern Conference powers Philadelphia and Milwaukee two more times apiece over its final nine games, plans to keep playing hard until the end.
"It's important for everyone in this locker room to go out strong," Atlanta rookie Trae Young said. "Going out strong will help us next year."
The Hawks will need to find a way to slow Philadelphia center Joel Embiid, has played only one time against Atlanta this season and collected 10 points and six rebounds. That's far below his season average of 27.5 points and 13.8 rebounds.
Embiid missed the game with Milwaukee on March 19 as a scheduled day to deal with ongoing left knee soreness that has kept him out of nine games. The off day seemed to sit well with him. The extra rest -- and the motivation that came when he was pushed from behind by Boston's Keith Smart -- helped motivate him to produce 37 points and 22 rebounds.
The shove resulted in an altercation between Embiid and Smart. Both had to be restrained by teammates and no punches were thrown. After a video review, Smart was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul. The incident inspired Embiid, who scored the next eight points.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said, "He showed in many ways how much it means to him and I respect his tenacity."
"It was good to get this win," Embiid said. "It was a great step to what we're trying to do here. I knew I had to come out and be extra physical and set the tone."
Atlanta needs to find a way to keep forward John Collins in the game. The second-year forward has been plagued by fouls the last three games and fouled out
Thursday for the second straight night. The Hawks beat Utah despite Collins only producing nine points and eight rebounds, far below his season averages of 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds.
Young has picked up the slack and had 23 points and 11 rebounds against the Jazz. He sparked the Hawks' successful fourth-quarter surge and put them ahead to stay with a late three-point play. Young is averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 assists and has re-entered the conversation for NBA Rookie of the Year.
Philadelphia's Jimmy Butler enters the game on a roll. He scored 22 points against Boston and has scored 20-plus points in four straight games, his longest streak since being acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Atlanta and Philadelphia split their first two meetings, both played in Philadelphia, with the Sixers winning 113-92 on Oct. 29 and the Hawks winning 123-121 on Jan. 11.
--Field Level Media
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