After dispatching a tired Denver Nuggets team in fine fashion, the Atlanta Hawks head north for a couple more road games against Boston and New York.
Both teams present different challenges, despite what their altogether different records might indicate. But before we explore that idea, let’s quickly review the game against Denver. First of all, winning by 25 points is great. But as team captain Joe Johnson noted, that’s not the whole story. In a way, the Hawks did precisely what they were supposed to do (win the game), and nothing more. If you want to solidify the idea that you are a good team, then you are supposed to beat up on another team that is more road weary than you, and missing two starters to boot. The offense looked good for the most part, but there are still issues on defense. Giving up 100 points to a team that was missing 10 ppg from one guy, and potentially 19 ppg from another (J.R. Smith’s scoring average from last year)? Not good.
Moving on to New York and Boston. As stated earlier, both teams present a challenge to the Hawks. Now before you start snickering to yourself about the Knicks and their abysmal 1-8 record, you might want to remember a “weak” Sacramento squad that did not finally get put down until late in the fourth quarter. Then there was that Bobcats squad that stopped sniffling about their losing ways just long enough to hand us a beating similar to the one we gave Denver. Much as we may hate it, the Hawks have a way of playing down to opponents that they should be beating with ease. Why is that? Everybody has their own theories on the matter, but it’s the Hawks themselves who have to figure it out.
HAWKS vs. KNICKS
The Knicks like to run and shoot. Big surprise, with Mike D’Antoni at the reins. Outside of David Lee and Wilson Chandler, almost nobody is anywhere near serious about rebounding. And the defense? Did I mention Mike D’Antoni coaches this team? Suffice it to say that the Knicks are handing out about 10 more points per game than they are scoring. Of course, it’s kind of hard to outscore your opponent when you’re shooting 42% from the field for the season.
And that’s just it. A team can shoot horribly for several games, but all it takes is that one game where another team takes them lightly (at home, no less), and WHOOSH! They catch fire.
What you might remember
Nate Robinson coming off the bench to score 24 points in 24 minutes, in an eight point victory over the Hawks at “The Garden” on January 28th, 2009. Or Danilo Gallinari, Larry Hughes, Al Harrington, and Wilson Chandler each scoring 17 points or more in a four point victory over the Hawks on March 4th, 2009. Same place…Madison Square Garden. That’s right. The awful Knicks took us out both times, on their own homecourt. We need to change that tomorrow night.
These guys could be a problem
My nominations for game maker/breaker ended up in a three-way tie. I had a hard time not picking Wilson Chandler, even though his shooting percentage stinks right now. But the fact is, if that guy has to face a determined Joe Johnson or Marvin Williams, his shooting woes are only going to continue. So, I’m going with Nate Robinson, Danilo Gallinari, and Toney Douglas.
Why Gallinari? Simple. The Hawks have had trouble closing out on perimeter shooters. Gallinari lives on the perimeter, and right now he’s shooting a nicer percentage from beyond the arc (45.9%) than he is from the field overall (44.1%). He’s already taken 61 3s, and made 28 of them. Hey, that’s awful close to half of his 3 point attempts made. If we don’t close out on this guy, it’s going to hurt.
Nate Robinson? He’s a bit of an X-factor. Here’s another guy who is shooting horribly right now, but he has shown how explosive he can be in the past. If the Hawks aren’t playing with a high energy level, and Robinson begins to hit shots, watch out!
Toney Douglas? Now I know you’re shaking your head at this one. But once again, I have to point out the Hawks’ tendencies to not take a newer player in the league seriously enough until it’s too late. I’m glad we didn’t let Tyreke Evans beat us up (ask the Utah Jazz how it feels, he dropped 32 on them), but Toney Douglas is heating up right now. The Hawks can cool the athletic combo guard off with some stingy defense. Or, they can watch him continue to shoot over 50% from the field (and a dangerous 43.8% from the arc) and wonder what happened as he and Gallinari rains 3s all over the court.
I’ll say it one more time: The Knicks are a bad team. But they’re also a dangerous one.
HAWKS VS CELTICS
Just playing these guys is a challenge in and of itself. You’ll find out as a team just how tough you are, both physically and mentally, as well as how disciplined you are. Or how disciplined you’re not.
For the Hawks, it’s a challenge of finding out just how close or far they are from a member of the “Big Three”.
What you might remember
The 2007-2008 playoffs. And every game the Hawks have played against the Celtics since then. After the Hawks pushed them to 7 games in their first playoff series in over a decade, the Celtics have made sure the Hawks knew their place by beating them in every game since. That’s right. The Hawks have not beaten the Celtics since that playoff series. They brush off the Hawks (even when they need a last second shot to win the game) as “pretenders” or something other than a credible opponent. Ask Paul Pierce (grrrrrr…don’t get me started). The Hawks can’t have forgotten any of this. I know we as fans haven’t. Can the Hawks win a game against Boston? It may not even up the current tally, but it’s a step in the right direction, especially when we’re talking about improving the road record.
And scratch everything I ever said about the Celtics being the possible weakest link of the Big Three, allowing the Hawks to challenge for eastern conference top billing. Right now? They look like the strongest of the triumvirate.
These guys might be trouble
Take your pick. That’s the nasty thing about good teams, the Celtics in particular. There is not a guy in the starting five that you can slack off of. So instead of talking about who is the most dangerous, we’ll have to settle for which players present scenarios that could be the most trouble.
Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. These two guys play with plenty of passion, skills, and smarts. Both can hit a jumper, though ‘Sheed is much more well known for drifting out to the arc for a few attempts. The problem is, he can hit them, even if his percentage isn’t pretty (34%). But that’s not really the issue. The issue here is that both guys will do what they can to get into the heads of Josh Smith and Al Horford. They’ll try to get both guys into foul trouble, and frustrate them on the offensive end as well. Horford is steadier in this area, but Josh is more mercurial.
And really, it all hinges on Josh. Horford will hold his own as long as he’s not in foul trouble, but he really needs Josh’s help. If Josh doesn’t play well, the Hawks will struggle mightily against the Celtics. In fact, it may not even be a struggle. That comprises the frontcourt angle, in my mind.
In the backcourt, it’s still a “pick your poison” situation. Ray Allen is doing decently, and we’ll need Joe Johnson to pick him up….leaving Rondo for Bibby. While the Hawks usually dial it up a couple notches for the Celtics, Rondo is doing as well as ever, playing his role better than some expected. Bibby isn’t the only one who will be tasked with guarding him. So will Jamal Crawford, and Jeff Teague, assuming he gets to take the floor in what should be a hotly contested game.
So there you have it. Two road games up north, and the Hawks need to avoid exposing themselves in both.
What do you think? Will Joe Smith be able to help the Hawks (and his younger frontcourt mates) deal with the Celtics’ vaunted front line? Will Jason Collins get to play? Do you expect the Hawks to split the road games, win one, or lose both?