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Hawks bombard Hornets in play-in elimination game, to face Cavaliers for playoff spot

Leaving the court ejected and frustrated, Hornets forward Miles Bridges whipped his mouthpiece into the crowd, hitting a Hawks fan in the face.

She was barely disturbed.

Charlotte provided minimal disruption to Atlanta’s high-powered offense, as the Hawks won a play-in elimination game 132-103 Wednesday. Looking ready for the playoffs, Atlanta will face the Cavaliers on Friday in Cleveland for the right to face the top-seeded Heat in the first round.

Even as Hawks star Trae Young missed eight of his first nine shots, Atlanta built a double-digit lead. Once Young – who finished with 24 points and 11 assists – got rolling, the Hawks pulled away.

This was the Hornets’ second straight blowout loss in the 9-10 play-in game. They got torched by the Pacers last year, again looking especially horrendous defensively.

That said, Charlotte (43-39) had its first winning season in six years and just the fifth in the 18 years since the franchise reemerged as the Bobcats. That would’ve earned direct qualification to the playoffs as a top-six seed in many seasons. But because the middle of the Eastern Conference was unusually strong this year, the Hornets are already finished.

Atlanta – which made the Eastern Conference finals last year – was surprisingly stiff competition for this level of the postseason. Despite a rocky season, the Hawks still have the talent to hit a higher gear.

De’Andre Hunter scored 22 points and played strong defense. Clint Capela posted 15 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks, providing a game-altering interior presence on both ends. Danilo Gallinari added 18 points starting for an injured John Collins.

Another deep playoff run seems unlikely. Atlanta might not even make the playoffs. But keep winning, and maybe Collins returns, and possibilities would be greater.

Aided by Charlotte’s lousy defense, the Hawks looked at least for a night like a team taking off.