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Hawks: Out of breath, in contention for good playoff seed

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With their stunning win over the Chicago Bulls, the exhausted Atlanta Hawks ended the most remarkable early regular season stretch in their history on a high.

The Hawks collapsed joyously across the finish line of a period in which they played nine games in 12 days, the most fatiguing bit of scheduling in a quirky NBA season with all teams under severe demands.

The past week was especially trying for the Hawks. Within six days, they confronted Miami and Chicago, the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, four times. A combined four overtimes in a back-to-back-to-back window that closed Saturday pushed Atlanta to the limit.

So it was amazing that the Hawks -- angered by a triple-OT loss to a Heat team minus LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, then weary from an OT win the following night at Charlotte -- mustered up enough energy to beat the Bulls 109-94.

On Sunday, they rested, with a 6-3 record and a relatively relaxing week ahead with four games against NBA lesser-lights.

The Hawks are sharing the offensive load, with five players (nearly six) in double figures and Joe Johnson down to 16.3 points. Tracy McGrady has stepped up as an impressive sixth man, while five other subs are averaging in the teens on minutes per game.

Hawks Nation will not know until April if this team can break through what has been a granite ceiling and get to the conference finals. Until then, it is all about favorable seeding and figuring out a blend of players, old and new.

Come next summer, they can look back at these memorable string of games. Not now, though. There is no time. Next game: Monday.

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