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Hawks get first playoff berth since 1999 when Pacers lose

4/14/2008 - NBA Atlanta Hawks

ATLANTA (AP) - For the first time since 1999, the Atlanta Hawks
are headed to the NBA playoffs.

The Hawks clinched the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference
when the Indiana Pacers, the only other team with a mathematical
chance, lost at Washington 117-110 Monday night. The league's
longest playoff drought ended with Atlanta enjoying an off day.

"It's huge for our franchise, when you talk about a young team
coming together," fourth-year coach Mike Woodson said. "It's huge
for the guys that have put in their time and worked hard. We've
worked hard to overcome some things as a unit to get this team
where it needs to be."

Atlanta's last playoff appearance came during the
lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, when the team finished second in
the Central Division with a lineup that featured Dikembe Mutombo,
Mookie Blaylock and Steve Smith. The Hawks defeated Detroit in the
opening round, but were swept in four straight games by the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Now in the Southeast Division, the Hawks (37-43) made it back to
the postseason largely because of a down year in the East. Even if
they win their last two games, they'll still finish four games
below .500.

Still, the playoffs are a major step forward for a franchise
that decided to rebuild after its loss to the Knicks and wound up
needing nearly a decade to get it right.

Along the way, there have been some embarrassing missteps, such
as the trade for Isaiah Rider (who didn't even make it through the
season before he was cut), a playoff guarantee that fell far short,
a dismal 13-win campaign in Woodson's rookie season as coach and a
struggle over ownership that is still tied up in the courts.

"It's exciting to have clinched a playoff spot, but there is
still work to be done," forward Josh Childress said. "Being here
for my fourth year, and going through some of those rough times we
went through, it feels great to have made it and to get a taste of
what playoff basketball is like."

The Hawks better enjoy it while they can.

They will be huge underdogs in the opening round against the
Boston Celtics, who have the league's best record (65-16) and will
have home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series.

"It's a great feeling, but we still have to worry about
ourselves right now," said Joe Johnson, the team's leading scorer.
"We have to handle our business for these last two games to get
ready for the playoffs. Just because we're in doesn't mean we can
relax."

The Celtics won all three regular-season meetings against the
Hawks, including a 99-89 victory in Atlanta on Saturday night that
kept the Hawks from wrapping up a playoff spot in front of a
sellout crowd.

"It's something we wish we would have done," Childress said.
"It would have been a lot better if we just clinched it."

Boston also beat the Hawks twice on its home court, including a
23-point romp back in November. Atlanta was more respectable when
they returned in early March, losing 98-88.

The first two games will be played in Boston next week before
the series shifts to Atlanta. The exact schedule is still to be
determined.

"They're a team that obviously is very good," Childress said.
"I like our chances. We match up pretty well with them. In the
games we played them we have played well, but we weren't able to
finish the game. I feel like we're still trying to get better at
that.

"We're a team that has nothing to lose. We're going to go out
there and just fight."