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Stop underrating the Atlanta Hawks

The Western Conference is much, much better than the East in the National Basketball Association. The imbalance cannot be overstated, and it has been that way for much of the 21st century. When talking about professional basketball, the East Coast has mostly been an embarrassment.

In the 2014-15 season, we continue to see the similar geographic trend. The West has a host of championship contenders, led by the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs. All seven teams are at least 17 games above the .500 mark and none would be a complete shocker if they made the NBA Finals. To date, the worst odds for any of the aforementioned clubs to reach the Finals belong to the Mavericks and Blazers at 35/1, according to Vegas Insider. The best odds? The Warriors at 3/1.

Yet, the most underrated team in basketball is playing in the Southern city of Atlanta. They are consistently overlooked and drastically irrelevant most seasons, not pulling down national headlines since the days of Dominique Wilkins. Yet, at 55-18 and with the best record in the East, the Hawks are finally starting to draw some attention from all corners of the country.

Perhaps the lack of interest until this point is understandable. No sport has more of a yawn for a regular season than the NBA. Most of the power teams are disinterested until March, when they begin to fine-tune their postseason engines. The Finals matchups are almost predictable from the outset, so many years seemingly predetermined by the pundits.

This season, it was supposed to be a dogfight in the West while the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls brawled for Eastern supremacy. With more than half the campaign in the rear-view mirror, it is apparent another serious player with fists full of chips has joined the table. The Hawks are not only sporting the conference’s best mark, but doing so with a 8.5-game cushion. Earlier this season, Atlanta won a franchise-record 19 straight games, including victories over the Thunder, Rockets, Mavericks, Raptors, Cavaliers, Trailblazers, Grizzlies, and Bulls and Clippers twice each.

The roster is not filled with stars, but instead a perfectly meshing collection of talent. Al Horford is a beast inside, aided by Paul Millsap. On the perimeter, the Hawks have veterans Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague, along with youngster Dennis Schroder.

Individually, Atlanta is not overpowering. Together, it is overwhelming.

When you watch the Hawks, it is poetry in motion. The passes are crisp and often, the shots open and fluid. It is akin to the Spurs, with constant ball movement and an intuitive sense of where the open man is about to be. There is a complete trust, something rare in pro sports. Only Golden State averages more assists per game than Atlanta, 27.4 to 25.5.

Talk about the Cavaliers and the West all you want. Just don’t overlook these Hawks.

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