A tale of two scorned teams, a phrase I used yesterday in describing the Hawks and the Mavericks, is what sticks in my mind.
Both teams are loaded. Both teams have talent, depth, and versatility. Both teams are crazily inconsistent. STILL. Why? No doubt we could debate this all day (and many heated side arguments would inevitably spawn from the original topic, as always). We’ll probably do it anyway, but for now the question is which team will rebound? The Hawks just came off of a disappointing loss to the inferior-but-dangerous New York Knicks, a game in which defensive catalyst Josh Smith got himself ejected in the second quarter. The Mavericks are coming off of a loss to Western Conference doormat, Memphis. Dallas has been missing guard/forward Josh Howard, who wasn’t exactly playing thrilling basketball when he was healthy. The advantage is that Dallas is playing at home, but truthfully it may actually just come down to who wants it more tonight. Will both teams get after the win, or will both “play not to lose”, as fellow Hawks fanatic Sautee suggested to me earlier?
Many Hawks fans are frustrated by the lack of size that the team has. Well, imagine actually having that size, but not knowing from night to night if it’s going to do you any good? So it is with the Mavericks and center Erick Dampier. Dampier has all the size and strength needed to man the middle in today’s NBA game, but the desire is all too often lacking. Nobody ever calls Dampier undersized or weak, but he does not consistently affect the game the way the Mavericks would like. You can’t sniff too hard at 7.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.17 blocks per game in 25.5 minutes work per evening, but how do those numbers compare to the “undersized” Horford? All the same, Dampier can clog the middle nearly any time he chooses. But who is playing the pivot for the Mavs the other 22.5 minutes per game? Still, Dampier could be a problem. If he gets a season high in rebounds tonight, you can probably bet that things are not going well for the Hawks.
Jose Barea gives plenty of teams fits. The guy is fast, likes to go to the basket, and is really good at moving off the ball. The Mavs would be wise to put him on the court a good bit against the Hawks. Who will defend him? Bibby isn’t quite quick enough, but can Teague shadow him? The rookie Hawks guard has the quicks, but does he have enough to make up for all the savvy little tricks Barea will play on him to get free? Or will Teague find himself running into screens every time he gives chase? Of course, he would have to get on the floor for us to find out. Moving on….
Former Hawk Jason Terry is justifiably in the running for Sixth Man of the Year every year, at least these days. The only guy who scores nearly as effectively coming off the bench is some cat named Jamal. Terry hits from everywhere, be it the arc, midrange, or around the basket. Much like Rip Hamilton used to do for the Pistons, Terry is great about moving without the ball. He’ll run you around the court and off screens until the cows come home, then run you around the cows. Who is going to guard this guy?
Dirk Nowitzki is an elite scorer and good rebounder as well, despite how many times he’s been called soft. Like him or not, you have to game plan for a seven foot guy who can get his 26.5 points per game from literally anywhere on the court.
Last but not least, there is Shawn Marion. “The Matrix” is clearly not what he used to be, but make no mistake. He can still get out in transition, still rebound at a very high level, still collect steals and blocks, and still score in a variety of ways. Sleep on him, and he’ll remind you why he got that nickname.
So What of the Hawks?
Nothing may make you more nervous as a Hawks fan after last night’s debacle than the idea that Josh Smith may indeed be the main key to winning this game. Hopefully Smith has learned his lesson from last night (the first technical sets the tone, time to shut up), because he will be needed even more tonight. Unless of course the Hawks would like for somebody else to 1) Try and slow Dirk Nowitzki down by denying him the looks he wants on offense and forcing him to play hard on defense, and 2) Provide the all-too-necessary help defense that the Hawks apparently need on a nightly basis. The loss to New York proved that once you take out one of the Hawks’ low post defenders, all you have to do is constantly draw the other away from the paint. After that, it’s a layup drill waiting to happen. How much does a switching defense lend to this? We’ll explore that later, but feel free to comment on it now.
Joe Johnson has had offensive problems off and on this season. After starting out of the gate pretty hot, he has had a time of it in the last seven games. Aside from a solid game against the Raptors in which he defered at all the right times, Joe has looked uncomfortable or out of control at inopportune times during games. A statistically much better second half against the Knicks last night was not enough to overcome a dismal first half, and didn’t seem to do much for the team, though it raised his individual stats. The other disturbing thing is that lately, for Joe to reach 18 or more points, he has needed 18 or more shots. In addition, his defense has been less than notable in large stretches. On the flip side of the coin, Joe has picked up large numbers of assists in three of the last seven games. But for the Hawks to have a better shot at winning games (especially the tougher ones), Joe has to play more efficiently. And that’s just it: it’s not the number of points, assists, or any other stat. It’s the efficiency.
No one has looked as lost at times as Marvin Williams has. And while some may think it’s all over for him, Marvin has bounced right back in the last two games, showing himself to be a force on offense. WHEN INVOLVED. Another key to this game may be involving Marvin in the offense early on, then letting him be a spot up shooter and cutter throughout the remainder of the game. However, offense is not all there is to Marvin. He’s also capable of being a bothersome player on defense, not allowing opponents to get everywhere they want to on the floor. Marvin has to get back to using his size and length to both compete hard on the glass, and bother opponents that are seeking a path to the glass, or a good look at the basket.
The Hawks have one losing streak this season, and that has lasted just two games. If they lose tonight, it will be their second losing streak, and it could get worse. Not only that, but it will drop them to 5-5 on the road. While that may not be totally unacceptable, it’s a step in the wrong direction from what the Hawks want to accomplish with their road record. So should they look at this as an early season must-win game, or no?
This marks the 20th game of the season for the Hawks. You KNOW there is going to be a review of this first quarter of the season, right here, if nowhere else. But what might the front office and coaching staff be thinking?
What will the Hawks do? Step up to the plate (or in this case, the rim), or fold and go back home to practice some more?