Hawks begin longest-ever trip to start season but opponents not fearsome

The Hawks won’t have to face Nicolas Batum when they play at Charlotte on Friday. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

Before the NBA opened play Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight.com’s projection system said the Hawks will win an NBA-low 26 games. The Vegas over/under for Hawks is 25 1/2 (though bettors really like the over). Considering the low expectations for the Hawks, the roster turnover and their relative youth, it’s not ideal for them to begin the season with a five-game trip that is the longest to start the season in franchise history.

Before the Hawks departed for tonight’s season opener in Dallas, coach Mike Budenholzer was looking at the bright side.

“Going out on the road can be a positive,” Budenholzer said. “Spending time together and maybe more time in practices or film sessions. You don’t have anywhere to go or you don’t have a family to go home to. More time to bond and things like that. And you are tested on the road whether it be the crowd or the home team’s energy. But it’s the schedule. You’ve got to make the best of it.”

Again, a five-game trip to start the season is not ideal. But if there’s another bright side it’s that the Hawks aren’t going to play any NBA championship contenders on the trip. Their opponents include three likely lottery teams (Mavs, Nets and Bulls), one fringe playoff team  in the East (Heat) and one likely postseason participant in the East (Hornets). (The Mavs would fare better in the East but they’d probably still be a lottery team.)

The Hawks could beat the injury-weakened Mavericks. The Hornets are vulnerable without Batum and (possibly) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Nets and Bulls are no better than the Hawks — and Chicago will be down a rotation player or two after Bobby Portis reportedly injured Nikola Mirotic in a fight. The Heat are solid.

The Hawks are still getting a feel for their new offensive style as the season starts, but seven of their top 10 players are well-versed in Budenholzer’s defense. They are relatively healthy. Winning five or four games on the trip might be a too much to expect from the Hawks but they plausibly could grind out three.

If they lose four games or all five then it could be a sign that all the preseason skepticism about this team is warranted. Tanking proponents might be pleased, though.

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