The Hawks have had a chance to rest and reload since the grind-it-out win in Dallas. The last time they had a rest like this, they came in focused and blew a badly struggling Toronto Raptors team right out of the water before the halftime buzzer sounded. Will they do the same against Chicago tomorrow night, or will the Bulls be the latest in a line of teams that shouldn’t be beating the Hawks, but are?
After tomorrow’s hosting of the Bulls, the Hawks travel to Toronto for a rematch with the Raptors. While it’s doubtful that another 146 point explosion will take place, the Hawks clearly have what it takes to put Toronto in their place, and pad their road record in the process. But first things first. Let’s take a look at the Bulls.
HAWKS VS BULLS
What You Might Remember
Atlanta swept the season series with Chicago last year, 3-0. Only one of those wins was by double figures, and each time, the Hawks struggled when it came to containing Ben Gordon. Derrick Rose was a problem as well, though in the third game he became less of a factor. On the other side of the ball, Al Horford and Josh Smith took turns laying a beating on the Bulls (both players missed one of the three games each, against the Bulls, due to injury). The most consistent Bull-beater? Mike Bibby. After watching him average 22 points and 6 assists against them, the Bulls probably aren’t in a hurry to see him again. Bibby’s offense isn’t needed as much this year, and that’s due to a former Bull. Seeing Bibby again is bad enough for Chicago. But now they get to face Jamal Crawford as well.
These Guys Might Be Trouble
Chicago has struggled badly on offense, but they have maintained many of their defensive precepts. Leading the way is a now-healthy Luol Deng, who is leading the Bulls in scoring, and on defense. Deng is slick around the basket, has a decent midrange jumper, and is now shooting a respectable 45%. He also rebounds the ball rather well, particularly from the small forward spot. He’s taking very few 3 pointers, but hitting the majority of what he attempts (7-13). On defense, Deng may not get eye-popping stats. But make no mistake, his length, instincts, and committment make him a solid defender that will be trouble for 2s and 3s alike.
Derrick Rose has had a rocky start to his season, as have his Bulls. But with the ball dominating Gordon out of Chicago, the backcourt belongs to Rose, and so does the team. What makes him dangerous (besides his athleticism and obviously wonderful tools) is the fact that he may have finally grasped the concept that he needs him to be a leader more than they need him to just be a good point guard. Taking the hint, Rose has begun to up his scoring. With blinding speed and a nice crossover, Rose is hard to keep out of the lane, where he finishes well most of the time. Allow him to spend more time in the lane, and he will get his teammates involved quickly. The last thing you want is for Rose to have a 20 and 10 kind of night. As in 20 points, 10 assists.
Matchups to Watch
1) Al Horford vs Joakim Noah. The former NCAA championship teammates are both quick in the open floor or the halfcourt, and both are very smart with the ball. Al Horford came into the league pretty much as a double double machine. Noah struggled with inconsistent playing time, some attitude, bad coaching (ahem…Jim Boylan), and even worse teammates (ahem…Ben Wallace) when he first arrived on the scene. Since then, he has managed to translate his hard-working and energetic ways to the NBA game, and has even gotten a little bit stronger. Noah is opportunistic and efficient on offense, and leads the Bulls in rebounding with just a hair under 12 rebounds per game. But can he handle the more offensively capable (and stronger) Al Horford, who is shooting a brilliant 57% from the field and a tick under 10 rebounds per game?
2) Joe and Jamal vs the Bulls backcourt. I’m thinking Luol Deng may end up guarding Joe Johnson more than the Bulls would like for him to, though that may open things up more for Marvin Williams. Even then, Johnson is hard to contain even if he’s allowed to play one on one all the time, and right behind him (or beside him, depending on what the lineup looks like) is the also dangerous Jamal Crawford. Think they’ve had enough? Throw Mike Bibby into the mix, and the Bulls should be worried.
I had a hard time picking between John Salmons and Brad Miller on this one. Miller has good shooting range, but if the more athletic Hawks big men stick with him, he gets no free looks, whether it’s beyond the free throw line, or on easy cuts to the basket. Salmons is a different deal. Streaky does not begin to describe him, as the Bulls don’t know what they’re going to get from him one night to the next. However, lack of skill is not the issue. Salmons can score from anywhere on the perimeter, and is not a bad finisher near the rim. But that’s why these guys are darkhorses. They can sneak up on you if you let them, but they shouldn’t.
The Bulls are struggling badly on offense, something that should whet the Hawks’ defensive appetite. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take the Bulls as seriously as any other team. On the bright side, the Hawks won’t likely have to deal with major halftime adjustments from Vinny Del Negro. There’s really only so much he can do. Chicago lost six straight before taking one from Detroit (that alone should be warning enough, seeing as how WE lost to that same Detroit team), and then went right back to losing. One the one hand, Chicago doesn’t have to worry about any overly frustrated, but very pivotal veterans who are sick to death of the losing. On the other hand, that’s also exactly what they probably need to get them out of the funk they’re in.
HAWKS VS RAPTORS
Since the record-setting beating at the hands of the Hawks, the Raptors have gone on to beat the Wiz by two, absolutely trounce the Bulls, and take down the Timberwolves. Bosh has returned to form, rookie Demar DeRozan is improving, and Jarrett Jack has stepped in nicely for the injured Jose Calderon, who wasn’t doing a bad job himself before he went down. Toronto has to be embarrassed with that loss. They’ll want some revenge, naturally. Bosh will likely be determined to show that the last showing against the Hawks was just a fluke. Head coach Jay Triano will likely attempt to make adjustments of some kind.
What do the Hawks need to do to improve a home record that is already tied for best in the Eastern Conference (tied with Cleveland), and improve a road record that is good for 4th in the East?
Will the Hawks be able to slow down Derrick Rose one night, then contain a resurgent Chris Bosh two nights later? Will Big Al and J-Smash have big nights against both pivotally challenged teams?
Is fan attendance at Phillips Arena every going to get better?