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April Paths

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With the calendar about to turn to April here is quick look at the upcoming schedules for six NBA teams. With the late start to the season and the condensed 66-game schedules, April will be a long and challenging month for several teams. Here is a look at three favorable draws and three difficult paths to close out the year.

Favorable April Schedules

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks currently sit within a clump of teams with similar records at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. There will certainly be a great incentive to avoid being the #7 or the #8 team, meaning not having to play Chicago or Miami in the first round and the Hawks have a schedule that should allow them to move up comfortably into the middle match-ups. Atlanta only has 12 games in the final month and eight of those games will be at home. The Hawks play just six winning teams in April and they don't have to play any of the top elite teams in the league. They also get a pair of games with three of the worst teams in the league, Charlotte, Detroit, and Toronto. The final five games of the season will be at home and the Hawks should be in a good position to finish strong and be a threat in the first round of the playoffs.

Indiana Pacers:
The Pacers look like a team that also should maintain a safer position in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Indiana does have to play Oklahoma City and Chicago in the final month but both games are at home and. Indiana will play just five of 15 April games on the road and only seven of those 15 games will be against winning teams. Two of those games will be against Philadelphia, a team that appears to be sinking in the wrong direction and the Pacers will finish with each of the final four games at home. The finale is against the Bulls and Chicago has a great chance to have the top seed wrapped up, meaning it may be a freebie for the Pacers if they need it.

Milwaukee Bucks: The new-look Bucks are on the outside of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference but they are the only team still in play to move into that picture. The Bucks are currently 2.5 games behind the Knicks for the final spot but Milwaukee's schedule is far more favorable the rest of the way. The Bucks play just six of the final 14 games against winning teams and only five of the final 14 games will be away from home. The Bucks get Washington twice in addition to games with Toronto, New Jersey, Detroit, Charlotte, and Cleveland so if Milwaukee takes care of business against lesser teams they should be able to pick up some ground. The Bucks have six games against winning teams remaining but none of the games are overly threatening as they face none of the six teams with winning percentages over .600 in the final month.

Unfavorable April Schedules

Boston Celtics: The Celtics have closed to a tie with Philadelphia for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, playing great ball in the month of March to recover from a poor start to the season. Given the age on the team the Celtics would love to coast into the playoffs but a grueling final month may be ahead. It is hard to envision the Celtics climbing out of the #7 spot where they currently sit, which means they would likely face Miami in the opening round. Boston will get plenty of practice against the Heat as they face Miami three times in April in addition to facing Chicago and San Antonio in the final month. Eleven of the final 15 games will be against winning teams and over half of the remaining games are road games, where Boston has struggled this season. Boston faces six sets of back-to-back games in as many nights including one instance of three games in three days.

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors are a team that has the incentive to tank as their 2012 #1 pick is top seven protected. If they end up with a pick after seven it belongs to Utah barring a deal getting made. Finishing with the seventh worst record doesn't ensure a top seven pick in the lottery but right now Golden State has just the ninth worst record. If the Warriors want to lose games down the stretch the schedule will help the cause. Twelve of the final 16 games are against winning teams and ten of those final 16 games are away from home. The Warriors will play only one game the rest of the season against a team with a worse record than their own as they play a couple of competitive teams with losing records with Portland and Minnesota on the map. The Warriors will go up against some of the best in the Western Conference with two games each against the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, and Nuggets so Golden State is certainly in a good position to improve its chances of keeping its draft pick in what could be a pretty loaded first round.

New York Knicks: The Knicks have played some better basketball since the coaching change but injuries could cause some problems with Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin both missing recent games. New York has a little bit of room between Milwaukee, holding on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference but the schedule will present some serious hurdles in April. Eight of the final 13 games are against winning teams including having to play the Bulls twice and the Heat once. Eight of the 13 are away from home and the Knicks have been a much worse performer on the road. New York only has three sets of games on back-to-back nights in April but they will close the season with four of the final five games on the road, setting up for a potentially disappointing finish given the easy slate that Milwaukee has the rest of the way. The Bucks and Knicks do play in mid-April and it will be a tough spot for the Knicks, playing in a second straight road game on back-to-back nights following up back-to-back games with the Bulls. Given Milwaukee's light early April schedule the Knicks and Bucks might be nearly tied by that point and it could be an absolutely critical game.

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