Hawks finish December with series of challenges

The second half of December will be prove to be a challenge for the Atlanta Hawks. They’ve gone 5 and 1 for the month so far, with four blowout wins over bad teams, one humbling loss, and one grind-it-out win over a good team. Not at all bad for a team that is out to prove just how good they really are. But after playing four of those six games at home, the Hawks finsh off the month (and the calendar year) with five of their eight games being played on the road. Among the most daunting? Utah visits the Highlight Factory this Friday, the Hawks travel to Denver on the 23rd, and then face Cleveland in back to back games on the 29th and 30th. In between all of that is are visits to Indiana, Minnesota, and Chicago. Indy and Chicago have already felt the wind from the Hawks’ wings. Will Minnesota succumb to the flurry of talons as well, or prove to be an opponent that can compete?

You can never truly assume anything in the NBA when it comes to wins and losses, and the first quarter of this season has proven that often enough. Still, the good teams tend to remain good, and the bad teams tend to remain bad, at least for a while. But what about those that are in transition? The Hawks know what it’s like to be in that middle space, where nobody can really decide if and when you’re about to turn the corner from bad to good. That’s where tonight’s opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, find themselves at the moment.  

HAWKS VS GRIZZLIES

With a record of 10 wins and 14 losses, the Grizzlies figure on being part of the “you’re bad” contingent of NBA teams. They’ve suffered some bad losses (arguably none worse than the 120-93 drubbing at the hands of the Utah Jazz), but have recorded somewhat improbable wins against teams like Portland. They reeled off three straight against Minnesota, Dallas, and Cleveland before losing to Oklahoma City in a shootout, then falling to the league-leading Celtics by just five points. Clearly the Grizzlies have the capability, if not the consistency, to cause any team a problem. The Hawks would be best served to treat them as such, and keep up their guard for the entire game.

Memory Lane

Atlanta and Memphis met twice last year. The first time was about 17 games into the season. All of the Hawks starters scored in double figures, led by Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby, who made life absolutely miserable for the Grizz enroute to a ten point win.  In the second meeting, the Hawks played without three starters, while the Grizz played with all of their starters enroute to an eight point win in what was the Hawks’ last game of the regular season.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Rudy vs. Marvin

This one has to be bringing the most blog heat. Much has been made about the two players, if only for the sake of comparison of the obvious: Rudy Gay enjoys the more prominent role and has the stats to make his case. Gay is Memphis’ leading scorer and is playing pretty good basketball right now. Considered one-dimensional for a while, Gay has shown that he can rebound well from the small forward spot, and defend (1.78 spg, .91 bpg). One of the biggest keys to the Grizzlies beating the Cavaliers? Gay’s defense on Lebron James.

Meanwhile, Marvin Williams has his work cut out for him. On offense, he’s the fifth option these days, and unless Coach Woodson or his teammates decide to heavily involve him, he won’t have the advantage of making Rudy Gay work on defense. On the other side of the ball, Gay is more than a handful. He’s quick in the open court, and can be just as tough to deal with in the halfcourt. As it stands, Gay’s only true weakness on offense seems to be at the three point line, where he’s hitting only 33%. What’s scary is that Gay is hitting roughly 48% overall, meaning that he is hitting a very good percentage of his other shots. Can Marvin keep him contained, thereby putting the pressure on O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, and others to produce?

Zach vs. Josh

Zach Randolph has been so quiet in Memphis, most folks probably forgot he was even still in the league. On the court, however, he makes all the noise he needs to. Randolph is averaging 18.7 ppg on 49% shooting, and grabs 10 rebounds a game to go with it. Randolph can score inside on a variety of moves, or hit the midrange jumper. He’s not the fastest guy down low, but he surely isn’t the slowest. However, defense is not and never has been his forte. Enter Josh Smith, who though averaing 15 points per game, is also shooting an efficient 52% from the field, and has become a bonafide assist threat.

Josh is playing the best defense of his young career. He’s still the widely feared shot blocker, but he now also gets a good number of steals and deflections, and does a lot more than just try to get the big block. Smith is also hitting the boards harder on both ends, using his insane leaping ability and doing the simple fundamental stuff like blocking out. Randolph will be a good challenge for Smith on the defensive end, but what of the offensive end? As stated before, Randolph is less than impressive on defense. If the Hawks get Smith going early, it may be a very long night for Randolph on both ends of the floor. However, if Smith gets into foul trouble early or has other issues, Randolph will make Atlanta pay the price.

OJ May vs. Joe Johnson

The third member of the Memphis scoring triumverate, Mayo is on his way up in the NBA game. Experts and amateurs alike wondered whether he would end up being a point guard or a shooting guard. For now, the Grizzlies have him at the 2 spot, leaving lottery draft pick Mike Conley to run the show. That doesn’t take away Mayo’s ability to make plays, but scoring is his main purpose as it stands right now. And score he has. Mayo shoots 47% on this run-and-gun team, producing 17.7 ppg, which is good for third on the team. On defense, Mayo has quick hands and can get steals, but his discipline is still lacking. Similarly, Mayo’s discipline shows in his turnovers on offense. But don’t be fooled. The kid can play, dropping 20 or more points on teams like Utah, Dallas, and Cleveland. The most convinced recipient of his offensive prowess? That would be Denver, who watched him score 40 on November 1st. Though his three point percentage doesn’t exactly suggest it, Mayo can be deadly from three point range…when he gets hot.

On the other hand, Mayo will have those quick hands full with one of the trickiest ball handlers in the league. Joe Johnson has the ability to play keep-away against more than one player, but he can be pick-pocketed if he gets too carried away with his probing dribble. If Joe decides to post up, Mayo is in serious trouble. If Joe attacks quickly, Mayo is in serious trouble. If Joe takes more than four or five seconds to decide where he is going to try and get his shot, and dribbles the whole time he’s thinking, Mayo has a good chance to disrupt his game. However, Johnson is also one of the best in the league at getting off (and making) difficult shots. Mayo will have to be well grounded and very disciplined to stay with and hope to contain Joe Johnson. If this happens, he still has to deal with Joe’s playmaking ability, which is superior to Mayo’s. What’s a guy to do? Besides hoping that Joe is off his shot and not in the mood to pass to anybody, there isn’t much else for Mayo other than to learn from the lesson that’s coming to him….

Marc Gasol vs. Al Horford

A tale of two hard-working big men, if there ever was one. Gasol and Horford share a lot in the stat box. Both get a decent amount of points per game for not being one of the top 3 offensive options on their teams, both are just a hair under averaging a double double per game, and both collect a nice amount of blocks and assists, while also shooting a very high percentage from the field. Gasol has the physical advantage of three or four inches, in addition to about 25 or 30 pounds. But is he as strong or stronger than the bullish Horford, who will have the advantage of speed? Both players are don’t-give-up-or-give-in types who may neutralize each other in this game. Or, one might find the chink in the other’s prodigious armor, and exploit it. Hard to say which way this will go.

Jeff Teague vs. Jamaal Tinsley

Say WHAT?

Yeah, I know. This most likely has nothing to do with the outcome of this game, but I see an important opportunity and lesson here for the young Atlanta point guard. Tinsley doesn’t play much these days (about 16-17 mpg), but it doesn’t change who and what he is: a bigger, more physical point guard than Jeff Teague. Teague may get to play against the fleet Mike Conley, but will he learn as much against him as he would against the veteran Tinsley? Sometimes a guy who has fallen from promise and near-prominence is the hardest to compete against. That describes Tinsley to a “T”. He’s not shooting very well, but his assist-to-turnover ration is good, and he seems fine in his role as backup. It would be a change of pace for Teague if he gets matched up with Tinsley, who has more savvy than most of us probably remember.

X-Factor

Who is the X-factor in this game? You know, the ONE guy who may have the most influence in the outcome. I’m never any good at picking just one person, as is evidenced by each and every post (call me wish-washy if you must), but if you have the stones to take a shot at it, let’s hear it!

While you’re at it, what do you think attendance will be like? How about against Utah this Friday? Will both games see roughly the same number of fans? Of course, enthusiasm can sometimes make up for numbers. Or so a fan thinks…

34 comments Add your comment

HAWKS RULE

December 16th, 2009
6:30 pm

yessir

December 16th, 2009
7:08 pm

Second……..

Big Ray

December 16th, 2009
7:16 pm

Man! Can anybody dribble behind/between their legs at that speed? JJ can!

Meanwhile on defense, Josh teaches Conley a lesson, and Joe puts Rudy on lock.

Big Ray

December 16th, 2009
7:17 pm

Did Rudy just get blocked by….gasp….Marvin?

Big Ray

December 16th, 2009
7:18 pm

Hot damn, Joe with a dunk. Better watch that dang Mayo. He can get hot from deep…

Big Ray

December 16th, 2009
7:23 pm

Whoooeeee! Josh with the move!

vava74

December 16th, 2009
7:24 pm

The X-factor will be desire: we need our guys to go in desiring to win and doing whatever is necessary to get it.
The Grizz are a dangerous team and we need to show them that we belong in the top tier by playing good defense and keeping our focus.
Right now we still have not yet earned the league wide respect that allows sometimes teams to coast after getting 15pts on top.
Against the Hawks the opposing teams still feel that they have a chance. We need to eliminate that feeling but not loosing to this type of team.
This game and the UTA game are very important psychological games. If we win both, we will gain momentum, if we lose any of the two we will continue to struggle to build the right reputation.

Big Ray

December 16th, 2009
7:24 pm

Rudy can’t do anything with Joe on him. Joe just has him all locked up. Beautiful!

vava74

December 16th, 2009
7:25 pm

Big Ray, I think you are almost alone in this party today…

Big Ray

December 16th, 2009
7:28 pm

We’re seeing ourselves from two years ago, and we don’t know what to do….

vava74

December 16th, 2009
7:29 pm

too much confidence… bad start from a mental point of view…

vava74

December 16th, 2009
7:45 pm

Teague made also a sloppy pass like that (a bounce one actually) against NJ.

He needs to focus and stop making stupid mistakes like these.

Sautee

December 16th, 2009
8:02 pm

LOL, ‘Nique called Thabeet “Tibet”.

vava74

December 16th, 2009
8:15 pm

‘Nique is so bad doing color commentary that I am starting to miss him whenever I catch a feed with other broadcasters!!!!!

Alien in ATL

December 16th, 2009
10:21 pm

hehe – seems like most of your fans turned away from bashing the coach, didn’t they Big Ray! Even you stopped blogging on your own blog! ROTFLMAO!!!!

[...] The second half of December will be prove to be a challenge for the Atlanta Hawks. They’ve gone 5 and 1 for the month so far, with four blowout wins over bad teams, one humbling loss, and one grind-it-out win over a good team. …Read Original Story: Hawks finish December with series of challenges – Atlanta Journal Constit… [...]

Alien in ATL

December 16th, 2009
11:43 pm

Just noticed you didn’t have much to say on Ken’s blog neither, did you? Nothing bad to say about the coach? double ROTFLMAO squared!
As I already mentioned in a couple of blogs, it is sooo funny to see the ones on a quest dropping off blogs when the team is playing great and winning, but you see them all around when it goes a bit worse. Did anyaone predict an 82-0 win season for the Hawks? I don’t think so. Most of y’all were hoping for a +50 season. So where would you expect the 25 – 30 losses? I’d rather see them loose against teams that don’t matter that much than against our direct opponents. I don’t like them loosing against a low team, but if you recall our 13 win season, we won a couple of games against high ranked teams like Dallas and others. One has to expect and accept those kind of losses, instead of bashing the team and immediately pulling out the long prepared attacks to some members (players and staff) of the team you claim to be routing for.

I assume I will be pretty much blocked from your blog after unraffling your pretty writing style and wripping off your disguise as a “fan” with a pre-deterrmined plan to try to sack a good coach you don’t want to acknowledge for whatever reason. So goodbye – if you decide to ban me from your blog. Otherwise, be prepared for more disagreements! HaHaHa! I’m pretty sure you are pretty much in desperation because what a blog (I am pretty sure you had already prepared) if our Hawks would have lost this game against a pretty difficult opponent. But, like a lot of other “fans” you disappear when the Hawks show you are only the pathetic kind of fan! Good try in disguising your disgust toward certain members of the Hawks organization in pretty words, but you fail against a good reader (one that can read between the lines!), that every paragraph you write has a second meaning, trying to convince whatever readers you have left (and according to the reaction to your blog, you are pretty much on your own – LMAO) that the coach has to be fired. Keep up the good work Big one!

[...] of what makes Atlanta’s “switch everything” defense (to quote my friend Ray of Hawks Fan Nest) effective- of course it doesn’t hurt to have an electric shot-blocker like Smith on the [...]

Astro Joe

December 17th, 2009
8:01 am

Has any single commentator (’Nique) ever butchered a player’s name (Hasheem Thabeet) in the history of sports? If so, I want evidence. He messed up his first name at least twice and his last name maybe 3 times. If he had received any more playing time, ‘Nique would have been in Grady with his tongue in a knot.

Loved him as a player and I only hear great things about him as a person. Maybe, someone can gently guide ‘Nique to a different career decision in the next year or so.

Oh yeah, another good win. I’m looking forward to a more challenging game against the Jazz.

wordy

December 17th, 2009
8:37 am

Utah should be a good litmus test. Hawks got spoiled this week on very bad teams. Memphis basically handed the Hawks the ball on several possessions. They are horrible at keeping the ball.
On the other hand these hawks are playing with good confidence…plus did you see when Josh had a fast break in the second quarter and threw up a layup. He had bad position to get a power dunk but last year he would have tried to do a 360 windmill or something. He is playing very nice bball. Love that hustle even when they had the game won.
Astro- Love Nique so he gets a pass but he is horribly bad (but funny) commentator.

Daniel

December 17th, 2009
9:22 am

Great win again last night.
I was at the game and Teague had a very nice game. Did everyone catch his dunk?
The Hawks are playing with a lot of confidence and Woody is going to his bench early and often.
Anyone want to bring up Teague’s minutes? Seems like after the first quarter of the season and Woody has worked out the Bibby/Crawford/Joe rotation he is getting more steady minutes. HMMMM…. I think someone (toots own horn) kept saying that.
4 blow out wins, wow. I don’t care what kind of team we were playing, btw the Griz have been better than decent since AI left.
Utah is another animal all together, the past couple of years they were a shadow of themselves on the road, but not this year. We better buckle up.

Astro and Woody- I have been saying ‘Nique is terrible for the past two years. He actually makes watching the games at home, almost unbearable. We all love him as a player and Hawks ambassador, but enough is enough. Can we get Steve back, please!

Daniel

December 17th, 2009
9:26 am

Alien- What in the world are you talking about? Ray has been both critical and complementary of Woodson. He is also consistently on the blog. I happen to be a Woodson fan and do think he gets unfairly blamed, but no one who has that opinion is a fair weather fan as you suggest. Even, Ken is a dedicated fan. Your post was a complete mess, and I am sure you won’t get “banned”; your stuff is just not that important either way.

Fundamentals

December 17th, 2009
10:41 am

The return of Steve Smith to the broadcast would be awesome. Nique just doesn’t have what it takes to comment during games. What about moving D Scott from radio to TV? Guess that’d mess up Holman.

Can we get Alien banned? What an idiot. I watched the blog for years. There’s consistent chatter from basically 8-10 folks. Folks definitely have their opinion, and last I checked they have a right to it.

The ATL is definitely a college football & baseball town. Basketball has it’s ups and downs. The fans the Hawks do have, for the most part on this blog are die hard. Fairweather fans don’t really show up here.

The Woodson debate will continue as long as Woody is here. I personally think we’d have a Phil Jackson debate if Phil were here and the team showed the mental lapses we have for the past six years. I’m still firm in my belief that Woodson has a good system. When the kids follow it he looks like a genius. When they don’t he looks like an idiot. It all falls on the players and their willingness to accept their role and come to work as a professional giving 100% every night.

I can accept losses. Sometimes a team on a tear can rip us a new one. We lost to New York who was on a tear, the Bobcats, Pistons who are playoff teams this year, the Lakers and Magic which are tough, but acceptable and to the Hornets. Some discount the Hornets team, but they were contenders in the West every year prior to this one. They’re capable of beating anyone on any given night. Their struggle is proof that Chris Paul can’t fix everything.

We’ve got a great team. Let’s enjoy them. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. Fairweather, Aliens, Experts or not.

Big Ray

December 17th, 2009
12:14 pm

Alien in ATL ,

Let’s start from the top. First, I’m not going to ban you unless you viciously and consistently attack other bloggers, or otherwise make offensive remarks and/or overtures that are deemed inappropriate according to the rules set by the AJC. You are free to post all you want otherwise, disagreements and personal agendas against me included. In fact, sometimes you comments have inexplicably made it into the spam queue, and I’ve pulled them out and made sure they made it to the blog. Has there been anything else you have posted that didn’t make it to the blog? If so, let me know.

Second, this is a FAN blog. I am a diehard Hawks fan who likes to write, and I host and moderate this blog. I’m ECSTATIC that the Hawks are winning they way they are. The people who post here are not MY fans, they are my fellow Hawks fans, yourself included. This blog is NOT about me, it’s about the Hawks. I think everybody here knows that. Please join the crowd…

Third, yes I did stop blogging last night. Had one sick child to deal with, and another who didn’t think mom was serious when she said it was bedtime (time for dad to do his thing). Apparently you haven’t been reading my blogs for very long, or you would have seen all the other times I blog during games, right up to the end, much less all the positive comments I’ve made during blogs articles, and on blog posts. I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that I’m unhappy that the Hawks or winning, or that Woodson is successful (seems to me that the two go hand-in-hand, do they not?). What can I say, family stuff comes before blog stuff.

Fourth, misrepresenting people (I’m using the nice words here) doesn’t do much for one’s credibility. I would encourage you to avoid such behavior. Misunderstanding is one thing, and I certainly understand if somebody misinterprets what I have to say. However, purposely misrepresenting is another story altogether. If you wish to continue to try and sway the minds of people who post here, go ahead if you must. I will let them make up their own minds, instead of trying to tell them how or what to think. It would be interesting to here an explanation of all the hidden meanings in my blog articles, though. Heck, I missed those myself…. ;)

Again, you are welcome to post as much as you like. That’s what this blog is here for.

By the way…I never got a reply back from you on the last blog. You DID see it, didn’t you? :)

Big Ray

December 17th, 2009
12:55 pm

Daniel ,

LOL…yeah, you did call it right about the minutes. Glad you reminded us though, I know I forgot. You definitely get the BOW (blogger of the week) for that one, lol!

Big Ray

December 17th, 2009
12:56 pm

Fundamentals ,

Now, now. Let’s be nice to the Aliens. ;)

By the way, that was a very good and balanced post.

Daniel

December 17th, 2009
3:04 pm

Big Ray that you for the props. Do I get a T-shirt or something?
You know that isn’t a crazy idea for the AJC to give a blog award each week/month to the different sports. I mean what does it cost them to make a T-shirt? $2? And, we would wear them with pride to games and such, which is advertising!!!

Just an idea, I am sure it has been brought up before

Fundamentals

December 17th, 2009
3:07 pm

I just figured the guy was off base so I’d kick him in the jimmy.

I’m lovin the Hawks debate every day. I just can’t believe we’re cruising for 50-60 wins no doubt. Possibly better. Last time we had this kind of power was in 87-88. Trouble was the Celtics loomed then and they loom now.

I tend to hope that the Celtics and Magic meet in the Conf Semis and we can take Lebron. I’m 10% sure the refs would be fair. 90% we’d get cheated. Then it would be nice to meet the Celtics in the East finals? Why not have the rematch on the biggest stage possible. After it’s over the winner, hopefully ATL, can meet up with the Lakers and take it the distance.

As a kid who cried real tears when Larry, Parrish, McHale, DJ & Ainge tore our hearts out I relish the opportunity for a rematch when both teams are touted as powerhouses. It’d be a dream come true to see Horford running around with Josh screaming “Top of the World, Top of the World, Ma!”

Melvin

December 17th, 2009
8:30 pm

In the great words of Charles Barkley “You can’t fake energy and effort”. My gosh, D.Wade body language look bad on the court against the Magic tonight…

Big Ray

December 18th, 2009
7:39 am

Utah game will be interesting tonight…

JSS

December 18th, 2009
8:24 am

I have a serious question for the moderator and all of wizened regulars of the nest. What have you enjoyed the most and the least in terms of this Hawks team?

Happy and safe holidays to everyone… JSS

Fundamentals

December 18th, 2009
9:07 am

I’ve enjoyed the progress this team has made each and every game.

I’ve detested the lack of focus in the second half of the Magic & Lakers game. Followed by the lack of effort against New York & Detroit from the start. We basically beat ourselves.

KevinA

December 18th, 2009
10:58 am

Milestones: Atlanta is at least 10 games over .500 before Christmas for the first time since 1997-98. And: Atlanta has won six games by at least 20 points after combining for just five such wins in previous two seasons

How is that for starters.

Big Ray

December 18th, 2009
2:51 pm

Good comments…carry them over to the new blog, which is up now!

JSS ,

Great question.