ATLANTA - They are aware of the situation's uniqueness, even if they have done their best to downplay it, pretending like it's not something at the forefront of their minds.
The Nets and Hawks are immersed in an interesting position, creating queries about the way they're approaching their two matchups in the span of five days, the first coming Saturday night at Philips Arena.
Given Atlanta has the right to swap first-round draft picks with the Nets in June, as a condition of the Joe Johnson trade, there's an incentive for the Hawks to knock the Nets out of their playoff push.
A lottery pick would be a boon for Atlanta, the Eastern Conference's top seed. But if the Nets still manage to get themselves into the postseason and meet the Hawks in a best-of-seven first-round series, Atlanta put them on notice, pummeling Brooklyn, 131-99, and halting its six-game winning streak.
Doomed by early foul woes and looking like a team playing its fourth game in five nights, the Nets (35-41) never got it in gear, falling behind by 13 points in the first quarter and allowing the Hawks to shoot 65 percent from the floor. Atlanta (57-19) took the Nets apart with surgical precision, assisting on 17 of its initial 21 shots, and blew them away with a 35-point second quarter, riding a 27-11 surge to grab a commanding 60-35 edge with 4:25 remaining before halftime. The Hawks followed that up with a 42-point third quarter.
Brooklyn remains in seventh place in the conference with six games remaining. Guess it's a good thing Nets coach Lionel Hollins de-emphasized any kind of significance to their pair of meetings with the Hawks, who were led by 20 points apiece from Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll.
"It doesn't matter," Hollins said before tipoff. "We have to win and keep winning until the season is over or until those other teams lose enough to where we've clinched a spot. That's the bottom line. It doesn't matter who we are playing against and swapping of picks means nothing at this point.
"Maybe it means more to Atlanta than it does to us because they would certainly like us to be in the lottery so they can get a better pick. But other than that, it doesn't mean anything."
The Nets were powerless to stop the Hawks, a point driven home when Horford threw down filthy dunks on consecutive possessions, knifing through the paint and unafraid to take it to the Nets' big men. Of Atlanta's 25 first-half field goals, 16 came on the interior.
It's almost as if the Hawks could already taste a lottery pick. "If you are conscientious of where your team is and what's the opportunities and what's available to them, I think you'd be naive or I don't think anybody would believe you if you said that you weren't aware of it," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. "If I could write my own script, of course we'd have the highest pick. The higher pick, the better. But we are going to play the games, and compete, and just because you say you want something doesn't mean it's going to happen."