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NBA scores 2016: The Hawks are not flying under the radar anymore and 3 other things we learned

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After some struggles, the Hawks are peaking at the right time and could make some noise in the East.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawks will fall short of the 60 wins they got last season by a considerable margin. Their struggles at different points in the season almost led to the front office blowing up the roster. The three-pointer has not fallen as regularly as it did last season, which has seriously affected their offense. They are a flawed team, clearly, so it's understandable that they haven't gotten the attention contenders command.

Yet with eight games to go, they have moved past the Celtics for the third-best record in the East and don't plan to let it go, if their convincing 112-95 win over the Pistons is any indication.

Atlanta has been lurking in the shadows for most of the season. The Cavaliers rightfully drew most of the attention in the East, both for their talent and their off-court drama. The Raptors emerged as their biggest challenger and the Celtics as the feel-good story, the starless team that was playing over their head. The Hawks, meanwhile, were lost in the shuffle of good-but-not-great teams in the conference.

They have clearly separated themselves from that group in the past few months. The win over the Pistons is their third in a row and their eighth in the last 10 games. Detroit shot just 38 percent from the field, which isn't surprising because the Hawks are elite on defense. They rank second in the league in defensive efficiency and have even been better than the Spurs on that side of the ball since the New Year. They swarm opponents until they either cough the ball up or settle for bad shots.

Paul Millsap -- who had 23 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and four blocks in just 29 minutes on Saturday -- has been an absolute beast on both ends, giving Atlanta an edge thanks to his versatility. The more cerebral Al Horford, meanwhile, offers the safety net everyone else needs to play aggressively on defense. Yet what's different about the team now as opposed to earlier in the season is that more players are stepping up.

The two-headed point guard monster of Jeff Teague and Dennis Shcroder -- a combined 23 points and 19 assists against Detroit -- might not be the most efficient in the league, but does a good job of driving the offense through dribble penetration. The starting wings never stop moving and the bench players do their jobs and stay in the lanes, for the most part. The cliché about well-oiled machines applies perfectly to this Hawks team that, for the second year in a row, is playing better than anyone expected.

Atlanta will face the reeling Bulls on Monday, looking for four straight wins. They will create turnovers and capitalize on those mistakes. Their bigs will draw their men out, giving the guards room to drive while the wings cut with surgical precision.

In the end, the Hawks will very likely emerge with another victory that won't get many headlines. Once the playoffs start, however, it will be impossible to ignore them anymore.

3 other things we learned

The Nets are trying to ruin the Celtics' pick

The Nets have been out of the playoffs race for a while and are waiting for next offseason, when new general manager Sean Marks will hire a new coach and try to rebuild the roster. Most teams in their position would be gladly losing to improve their odds in the lottery but the Nets owe their pick to the Celtics from the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade. And if the last two games are any indication, they are hellbent on hurting Boston's chances off getting the first overall selection.

After beating the Cavaliers on Thursday, they took down another playoff team on Saturday. Thanks to a huge fourth quarter from Brook Lopez, they beat the Pacers 120-110 and have now passed the Suns in the standings. That means they have the fourth-worst record in the league, giving the Celtics just a 11.9 percent shot at the first pick instead of a 15.6 percent chance. Who knew pettiness would be such a great motivator?

The Cavaliers are back on track

The Cavaliers have been one of the most shaky contenders we've seen in a while, as perfectly exemplified by an inexplicable loss against the Nets on Thursday. That's why Cleveland not only needed a win against the Knicks on Saturday to keep the Raptors at bay for the best record in the conference but also to show that they were not collapsing less than a month away from the playoffs.

Thanks to a stellar performance by LeBron James, who had a triple-double, and a much-needed Kevin Love bounce-back game, they managed just that. They were up by 24 at the half and never looked back. It was the type of drubbing a team of their level needs to administer once in a while to remind everyone -- including themselves -- of how talented they are. If they can do the same on Tuesday against the Rockets with Kyrie Irving back on the starting lineup, that dreadful loss against Brooklyn will seem like a distant memory.

The last two seeds in the West will come down to the wire

The Jazz beat the Timberwolves thanks to a big fourth quarter and with that win, claimed the eighth-best record in the conference, for the moment. The Mavericks will get a shot at getting it back on Sunday, when they face the Kings on the road. The two teams are tied in their season series but if Dallas beats Sacramento, they will have the same record as Utah but a better record against conference opponents.

The Trail Blazers, meanwhile, got a little room to breathe thanks to their win against the 76ers. They are now two games ahead of Houston in the standings. Now it seems like they will hold on to the sixth spot and one of the Jazz, Mavericks and Rockets will miss the postseason. If this all seems very confusing, don't hesitate to check out our playoff picture and tiebreaker guide.

Play of the night

Andrew Wiggins with a head start is a shot blocker's worst nightmare.

4 fun things

Boban Marjanovic made three Thunder players look like little kids with this dunk.

The D-League's D.J. Stephens had another monster dunk.

This Russell Westbrook circus shot was so awesome that it should have counted.

LeBron James with the dunk and stare down against the Knicks.

The Hawks forgot about Jeff Teague and left him stranded at the Pistons' arena.

Final scores

Nets 120, Pacers 110 (Nets Daily recapIndy Cornrows recap)

Magic 111, Bulls 89 (Orlando Pinstriped Post recapBlog a Bull recap)

Raptors 115, Pelicans 91 (Raptors HQ recapThe Bird Writes recap)

Hawks 112, Pistons 95 (Peachtree Hoops recapDetroit Bad Boys recap)

Cavaliers 107, Knicks 93 (Fear the Sword recapPosting and Toasting recap)

Jazz 93, Timberwolves 84 (SLC Dunk recapCanis Hoopus recap)

Thunder 111, Spurs 92 (Welcome to Loud City recapPounding the Rock recap)

Hornets 115, Bucks 91 (At the Hive recap Brew Hoop recap)

Celtics 102, Suns 99 (Celtics Blog recapBright Side of the Sun recap)

Trail Blazers 108, 76ers 105 (Blazer's Edge recapLiberty Ballers recap)