So the trade deadline passes, with the Hawks this time standing pat, as opposed to last year’s game-changing move.
While we don’t, and likely never will know what conversations ensued between Sund and the representatives of other teams, we kind of have to assume that some did take place. And likely, none of them were enticing enough for a trigger to be pulled. So, was that a good thing, or a bad thing? One view says that the Hawks needed to add another veteran big man. Another says that this roster is set, and needs no further re-tooling, as this team has shown itself capable of holding down the 4th best spot in the Eastern Conference standings through the first 54 games of the season. With a flurry of moves elsewhere, including East-West swaps, it’s not easy to tell if this was the best non-move to make or not. Then again, one would have to know what offers or ideas came up to better judge the lack of action. Either way, the season, like the trade deadline, passes on. As it is, Hawks GM Rick Sund has stated that the organization will have the most flexibility to make moves in the offseason. What remains to be seen is just how much advantage is taken by Sund and the Hawks at that time. But that makes for another story on another day.
Having dispatched the lowly (but moderately dangerous) Sacramento Kings, the Hawks now go and face the much more potent TrailBlazers. In some ways, this team is our cross-conference mirror image, as they also hold the 4th spot in the West. Like us, they find themselves in the middle of a hotly contested race for their spot (though we have a bit more breathing room at the moment). And they too have a variety of weapons that can strike from any corner of the court. Both teams do better when sharing the ball and involving their frontcourt players.
Of course, this contest is nearly always headlined by the Joe Johnson/Brandon Roy matchup. And it should be, as both players arguably hold the keys to their teams, as team leaders. In the meantime, the matchup that is surely no less important happens to be between LaMarcus Aldridge and whoever is assigned to guard him. Since Oden is out (again), Pryzbilla may be employed as the starting center. That matches him with the shorter, but hardy and determined Al Horford. Meanwhile, Josh Smith will face Aldridge (and vice versa). If Aldridge is employed as the center, then Horford may draw that assignment while Smith will tackle either Outlaw or Batum. Either way, Horford and Smith have to be up to the task, or the Hawks will quickly find themselves up the proverbial creek. Notice I said Horford AND Smith. These two guys share a chemistry that makes them difficult to deal with on either end of the court, but it’s a chemistry that we have not seen of late. In this game, and in the ones that follow, they will have to find a way to rekindle that chemistry. Otherwise, the Hawks will have to rely on their backcourt duo to get by, and this is already a “50-50 at best” proposition.
In order for the Hawks to win this game and send a message, they have to go on the attack, on all fronts. Instead of worrying about how to stop Roy, the Hawks need Joe Johnson to go right at him. Instead of trying to keep up with Aldridge and his ability to score outside as well as in, Horford and Smith need to put him on the defensive quickly. Pryzbilla is solid defensively, but he will not be able to keep up with our athletic front line, whether it’s in the full court, or cutting to the basket in the halfcourt. The Hawks should run whenever possible, and keep their collective feet on the throttle on offense. On defense, no open looks and no layup drills. Two guys that they’ll have to definitely keep tabs on: Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw. Both guys are quick and can get to the hoop, though Fernandez is superior in that regard. Neither, however, can be left open on the perimeter as both are right around 40% from beyond the arc. And while he is often overlooked, Steve Blake is a solid, if not flashy point guard who makes the right play far more often than not. Mike Bibby will have to keep him from making the easy/obvious plays and helping out Brandon Roy.
But let’s be honest. All eyes will be on Roy and Johnson. Both are all-stars, and while Johnson went scoreless in the last all-star game, Roy more than made his presence felt. Some say that Roy is a carbon copy of Johson. Some say he’s better. Tomorrow night, we get to see who will do what in a matchup of two #4 seeds. Your thoughts, gentlemen (and ladies)?