The road to the Play-In Tournament has been a strange one for the Atlanta Hawks this season. It wasn't that long ago that Atlanta was reportedly kicking the can on a potential trade of Dejounte Murray at the deadline. They decided to hold onto Murray, only for their star Trae Young to injure his hand in late February.

That could've been the end of the Hawks, but Murray and crew stepped up and rallied to get Atlanta back into the postseason.

There is still a lot of work to do. The Hawks have to win two road games just to make the playoffs, and if they manage to pull that off, they'll have the pleasure of facing the Boston Celtics yet again in a series. First up in their path to the playoffs are the Chicago Bulls.

It is a winnable game for them. But the Hawks will have to clean up their defense in order for them to take Chicago down.

Hawks' Defense

If Atlanta has a fatal flaw, it would be on the defensive end of the floor. And it's a pretty sizable one.

The Hawks ranked 27th in defensive rating this season. The only teams behind them were teams that gave up on winning games a while ago in the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, and Utah Jazz. To be fair, injuries to players like Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okongwu have really hurt Atlanta. But they are also just short on quality defensive players.

It isn't just on the ball where the Hawks have issues. Garrison Mathews gets beat off the dribble rather easily by Brandon Miller there, but there is no help defense to get the ball out of Miller's hands. Bruno Fernando is way out of position in drop coverage as well. That's just poor all the way around.

The good news for Atlanta is that they have been better defensively lately. Their defensive rating of 118.9 for the season jumped up to 115.8 from February 1st to the day before their season finale and 114.3 from March 1st. The Hawks did play their primary players in the last game of the season where they got trounced by the Indiana Pacers 157-115, but it was a meaningless game for Atlanta.

The bad news is their improvements don't mean that they are a good defense by any means. From February 1st until April 13th, Atlanta ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency. From March 1st, they were only 19th. It's better than 27th, but still nothing to write home about. They make teams work a little harder to execute on offense, but teams still have little issues getting what they want against them.

The Hawks need to play with this kind of effort against the Bulls in the play-in. Luckily for them, the Bulls are not exactly the best offense anyone has ever seen. For the season, Chicago ranks 19th in offensive efficiency and 28th in pace. They're a slow and methodical offense. That could help the Hawks not be prone to as many mistakes defensively.

Hawks defense must prepare for clutch Chicago

 Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) and guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (13) react during the game against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at State Farm Arena.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Hawks' lackluster defense could help Chicago stick around late. Atlanta has to avoid that. The Bulls are mediocre in just about everything, except in clutch situations.

The NBA defines clutch games as games within five points with five minutes to go or less. Twenty-seven of Chicago's 39 wins this season have come in clutch games. That's the most in the league. Their net rating in those situations trails only the Denver Nuggets. They know how to win close games.

The Hawks were not very good in those situations. They had a net rating of -12.8 this season. The Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, and Washington Wizards were the only teams worse.

Atlanta cannot let this game be close or they will lose. They have to get enough stops to make sure that doesn't happen.