Potentially big test prior to road trip

The Utah Jazz are about as up and down as any of the other good-but-not-great teams in the NBA. At home, they are 11-4, but their road record is 4-6. They’ve lost to Oklahoma City, Sacramento, and Minnesota (twice). Nevertheless, Utah cannot be taken lightly, as they have recorded recent wins against the Orlando Magic and LA Lakers, something the Hawks themselves haven’t been able to do yet this season.

The Hawks embark on a four game road trip that starts in Chicago tomorrow evening, followed by visits to Minnesota, Denver and Indiana. After that, they’ll face back to back contests with Cleveland, which will be split between the two cities.

HAWKS VS JAZZ

The Hawks sit at 18-6 and second in the eastern conference, while the Jazz hold fifth place in the west, with a record of 15-10. Yet, both teams are 7-3 in their last ten games. The difference? Atlanta is on a five game winning streak, while the Jazz have had consecutive wins just once in the last eight games.

Key Matchups

Deron Williams versus…..who? Williams is big, physical, quicker than he looks, and has great court vision.  Oh, and he can shoot (49% from the field). So who guards him? Is this the time for Woodson to employ the switching defense and hope for the best, or will Joe Johnson get the assignment? Perhaps a combination of both, such as which the Hawks employed against the Brandon Roy and the Blazers (hey, it worked). Whatever the gameplan is, Williams will provide a challenge with his shooting AND his passing.

Carlos Boozer vs. Josh Smith or Al Horford. Again, there may be a question mark here. Boozer is a bear in the post, as his 20 and 10 numbers would suggest. He can also hit the short to midrange jumper. But do you guard him with the lighter, but rangier and faster jumping Josh Smith….or the heavier, stronger Al Horford? Part of the answer lies in who you can get away with using to defend Mehmet Okur. The Jazz center is far less of an offensive threat down low than Boozer, and likes to shoot from the outside, where he tends to be quite effective. On the other end of the floor, how do the Jazz defend Horford and Smith? Neither Boozer nor Okur are premiere defenders, but they aren’t doormats either. However, the athletic Hawks frontcourt duo can do much to hurt the Jazz and keep them on their heels.

I wonder how many text messages Ronnie Brewer got from OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay? One of them better include a full scouting report on Joe Johnson, the guy who smoked Gay and Mayo enroute to an easy 26 point outing against Memphis a couple days ago. Brewer is a decent defender, but Johnson is on a bit of a tear in the last three games, shooting over 50% in each, and averaging over 22 points and 6 assists per game. The real kicker to all of this? Joe got this done on averages of just 14 shots and 28-29 minutes per game. Joe is looking as smooth, efficient, and hard to stop as he ever has.

Bench vs. Bench

The Jazz roster includes twelve guys who are playing over 10 minutes per game. Of course, that generic stat can be somewhat misleading (as any stat can). For example, Kyle Korver has only played 2 games this season, Andrei Kirilenko has been limited to 19, CJ Miles has played 7, Ronnie Price has participated in 8, and Kyrylo Fesenko has managed 17. Nevertheless, the Utah bench has been a staple for the Jazz. While everybody is familiar with Paul Milsap, rookie guard Wesley Matthews has been making the most noise recently. The kid is shooting just under 48% from the field, and is averaging nearly 9 points per game.

Meanwhile, what was once a bad joke for the Atlanta Hawks has now become a strength to be reckoned with. Atlanta’s bench has jelled and risen from what used to be a one man show, to a multi-headed monster. As with Paul Milsap, Jamal Crawford was a known quantity before this season. But guys like Maurice Evans have raised their games and meshed well with the newly acquire Crawford, the always determined Pachulia, the veteran Joe Smith, and the rookie point guard, Jeff Teague. It’s not that these guys have all just improved or excelled individually. It’s that they really play comfortably with each other, and with the starters as well. Nobody seems to be out of joint.

Although he was about a year late to the party, the bench mob also has to welcome Randolph Morris. After shedding weight and increasing effort, Morris finally looks like a guy who deserves regular playing time. The defensive effort is there, and the offensive polish reminds people of what he was able to do before he entered the league. Welcome to the show, RandMo!

Woodson vs. Sloan

Yes, I said it. The guys in the suits on the sidelines actually have an effect on this game. Iron sharpens iron, as the saying goes, and nothing is a better cerebral exercise for a coach than to go against a respected opponent. Jerry Sloan has been in the head coaching game much longer than Mike Woodson has, and he is going to throw every trick in the book at him. Sloan will work the refs constantly. His guys will run the pick and roll relentlessly and from different angles. He’ll make adjustments on both ends of the court. And he’ll make you think, rather than watch. It’s way too early to talk about what happens in the playoffs, but it’s never too soon to learn tricks of the trade from guys who are in the playoffs just about every year.

Sloan and his team will do their best to enforce their will on this game, despite the fact that they are not a good road team. Woodson will have a wonderful opportunity to outwit and outmaneuver one of the best basketball minds in the business, a guy who provides a true challenge, rather than somebody who relys purely on star power. Woodson gets to show the leadership and savvy that has guided this team to new heights in recent times. For a hard-working man who loves his job, what could be better?

X-factor

What or who is the X factor in this game? Can Deron Williams be stopped or slowed? Can Joe Johnson? The Hawks have made life miserable on lesser teams with their harassing defense and selflessness on offense. Can they do so against a good team that is well coached?

36 comments Add your comment

Daniel

December 18th, 2009
3:11 pm

I think the biggest “match up” is both teams energy levels. Let’s face it the Hawks are more talented than the Jazz. I know that is difficult for us regular fans to get used to saying. But, unlike these teams that we have been beating on recently, the Jazz will not fold their tents. Its just not what a Sloan team does. So the Hawks are going to have to be with energy, grit and determination. If they come out slow or start to coast this team can beat us.

Good Grief- RandMo has been officially “welcomed to the show” by Ray. I see it Ray. I just can’t bring myself to say it just, yet.

doc

December 18th, 2009
3:17 pm

i see bradley has made his play to get the anti-bubba folks off his back. heh heh

i really have been very impressed with these guys focus most nights and look forward to it continuing against one of the better prepared TEAMS. no individual stars to speak of beyond deron and certainly not eep like some of the other elite teams but continue to compete without the stable of stars that most teams need to stay at the top. sloan by his longevity proves he is the man and i hope with woody we can look back in 4 or 5 years and say the same. yup things are looking that bright with this team and coach.

looking to enjoy the game with one of my daughters tonight. should be special.

BA

December 18th, 2009
3:55 pm

The X factor, I think, will be Josh Smith. Boozer is having a comeback type season, but niether he or Okur can stop Smash in the paint.

Horford should get some good looks as well- I think the Jazz are a little overrated defensively.

I’d be quite dissapointed if Atlanta doesn’t handle this one with relative ease.

BA

December 18th, 2009
3:56 pm

Can somebody explain this Bubba thing to me?

Daniel

December 18th, 2009
4:14 pm

BA- Trust me, you don’t want to go there. It really ain’t worth it.

doc

December 18th, 2009
5:22 pm

anyone who has breathed even one breath showing any sense of discord about woody is included in the club BA. not sure of its intent and what is meant by the choice of the term. i think it is mainly to entertain the multiple personalities of the individual(s) within the club that started it.

Big Ray

December 18th, 2009
6:01 pm

BA ,

Doc has it right. Don’t bother with that nonsense. As for what Bradley has to say, I’m about tired of people clamoring for Mike Woodson to be signed RIGHT NOW. For one thing, the guy signed a 2 year contract. Was there something in that contract that said, “You are fully entitled to demanding and/or getting an extension at any time during the length of this contract, DESPITE the length of the contract?”

Some act like the man is being forced out into the cold. He’s got a job! He says he wants to stay here. Sund explained when the contract was signed that he would perform his duties for 2 years, then be re-evaluated. Where is the misunderstanding? Funny, there is more noise being made NOW about that than there is about Joe Johnson and HIS impending free agency.

Tell me, which one would you be more worried about actually leaving? The guy who was given his first and only chance at being a head coach and who has survived organization turmoil all this time, or the guy who has been the franchise’s best player for the past 5 years?

vava74

December 18th, 2009
7:27 pm

I agree that X-factor will be Josh. We need him to be sharp in defense (including rebounding where has slipped recently again) whilst managing to be out of foul trouble and avoid whining to the refs.

If he does that, we should win by 7/10.

vava74

December 18th, 2009
7:45 pm

I’ve seen enough from Josh. He came in with the wrong mind set.

niremetal

December 18th, 2009
8:01 pm

At home in Atlanta. My family doesn’t have cable and my League Pass is blacked out for the Hawks since I’m local. Gotta rely on a streaming feed, and it ain’t pretty. Catch y’all in a few days – Merry Christmas!

vava74

December 18th, 2009
8:02 pm

well, I was wrong… he came with the full package: the good and the bad…

JSS

December 18th, 2009
8:04 pm

Thanks for the comments over on the previous column regarding the team….As I pack my notebook up to go into everyones favorite place: the TSA security check, enjoy the game and keep up the Hawk Love!!!

vava74

December 18th, 2009
8:08 pm

sloppy bball… we are not executing

vava74

December 18th, 2009
8:42 pm

man… we are ahead but if by any chance the Jazz get hot, we will have to battle really hard.

vava74

December 18th, 2009
9:06 pm

Melvin

December 18th, 2009
9:58 pm

As much Kudos we have given the Hawks bench these past couple of games, I must say they played poorly tonight. They gave up 32 pts in the 4th qtr while only scoring 15pts…

doc

December 18th, 2009
10:36 pm

geez, went to the game and saw the best quarter of basketball by the hawks in m life. except for a sloppy period in the first quarter it would have been even worse. our guys put on a clinic and jerry did absolutely nothing to stop it like he saw there was no way his team was gong to be able to hold there own with our guys.

teague did absolutely nothing to change my mind about him except get back late to posterize someone. we did have our 11 and 12 guy out there but still it was a terrible display of basketball by the tail enders. just sloppy.

overall cudos again to our guys for taking over the southern division lead. let us continue our march through december from here. impressive folks need to go out the phillips and see them in person as they get really jazzed up themselves to perform for the home crowd.

KevinA

December 19th, 2009
12:02 am

Can Josh play like this 4 games out of seven series? If so even the lakers are in trouble. What a dominating performance. This was no I shoot better than you game. this was the Hawks at their best on a night who couldn’t hit stuff.

Hawks Rout Jazz | Crashing the Glass

December 19th, 2009
4:03 am

[...] than Mike Woodson has, and he is going to throw every trick in the book at him.”- Big Ray of Hawks Fan Nest, on [...]

Ed

December 19th, 2009
4:46 am

If the Hawks take care of business against the Bulls they have an excellent shot of going 3-1 on this 4 game road swing. I think the back to back against Cleveland is sheduling at its worst. Back to backs are bad enough but against the same team?

doc

December 19th, 2009
8:54 am

ed i think it actually favors us in the situation with cleveland. we are younger and if we win here then the pressure is on them to come back and win on what may be tired legs. it is more like playoffs when both teams are playing the exact same schedule rather than one team rested and the other not which happens frequently.

folks our guys looked awesome last night. again the only thing off was teague and the a-town dancers. man they were bad,

MannyT

December 19th, 2009
2:19 pm

doc…but Teague did make Sportscenter and the A Town Dancers may have been distracted with all the pressure to push their calendar ;-)

If it is all about confidence, I hope the young fella is getting big doses from the winning.

niremetal, the best hint I heard that may help while you are local…Stub Hub. The lack of fan support provides bargains for some folks.

BWAF

doc

December 19th, 2009
2:46 pm

again he was late too many times getting back and that was one time where he did just barely. if you drive to the basket and miss you still have a guy running the other way to catch or he serves up a lay up on the other end. he has to make those shots or die at the other end is what woody might be saying to him.

Melvin

December 19th, 2009
3:24 pm

Doc and Big Ray,

Rather our guy Josh is writing on his website personally or not. I think he’s doing a classy job with his site… Check it out if you haven’t yet…. http://www.jsmoove.net

Here’s his latest post:
“What’s up yall? I want to thank everybody for coming through to check the site out. We had 1 winner yesterday and will give out 2 more tonight. I’ll probably look through when I get back to the hotel after the game. Right now its pretty cold up here with snow everywhere. I’m sitting in my room playing Xbox and bout to grab a light snack before I start focusing on the game. Last night against Utah we played well as a team and I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface. We need all of your support out there…….WE REPRESENT ATLANTA and need that 6th man…………..Well i’ll hollar at yall later. Keep hitting me up and let me know what you think. I cant get back to every single person but i’m reading all your comments. 2 Hand Salute

Smoove

Melvin

December 19th, 2009
3:35 pm

After watching the video of Josh working out with Hakeem on his site, I think Hakeem could play right now if he choose to… Oh yeah, ain’t no way Hakeem is 7 feet unless Josh is 6-11 1/2…..lol

Sautee

December 19th, 2009
4:11 pm

doc,

When Teague penetrates, it’s up to the off guard (usually Crawford or Mo) to protect against run-outs. The problem is, especially in garbage time, that Teague was driving unexpectedly to the hoop, and surprising the off guard. Some of that will work itself out as they get more time together. And I don’t doubt that Woody will put a bug in Teague’s ear about milking the clock when you have a lead.

Astro Joe

December 19th, 2009
4:17 pm

Melvin, being a “big man” is more about atitude than it is about your physical size. That’s why Olajuwon and Barkley were so effective… they simply were determined to be low post players. I give doc a ;ot of cre4dit for suggesting a few years ago that when SMith dropped the J Smoove stuff and played like a J Smash, that he would become a far more effective player. And this year is a manifestation of that concept. Oh yeah, it’s also the same reason why Horford is a top 10 center (in a PF’s body)… attitude, determination and toughness.

Astro Joe

December 19th, 2009
4:23 pm

Imagine if Woody pulled a Sloan. 3rd quarter on the road and your team is getting straight smoked every which way but loose. And you absolutely refuse to call a TO after 4-5 possesions featuring run-away baskets by the opposition. Your PG approaches half-court, looks at you to see if you want to stop the opposition’s momentum (and get your own team re-grouped) but you sit there stoically and watch your own team get dismantled.

That’s what Sloan did in the 3rd quarter. Poor Deron Williams looked for a life-line and Sloan simply ignored his PG. Imagine what would happen in these parts if Woody pulled such a stunt. Half of the Hawks nation would be marching on his front yard.

Astro Joe

December 19th, 2009
4:32 pm

I don’t think that Crawford is as effective playing a pure SG as he is when he is handling the ball. He and Teague haven’t quite found their groove together (yet). But I do like how Crawford allows players 8-11 to get some shot attempts up in blowout situations. But he almost was too deferential last night (along with Teague). Morris, Hunter and Evans are not capable of carrying a team for a quarter. I suspect that Woody will ask Crawford to be a little more aggressive next time, like maybe when the lead gets down to 15-18. The other issue in the 4Q was that those end of bench guys forgot how to defend.

Ed

December 19th, 2009
10:54 pm

Tough loss tonight, but 15 assists and Woody reverting back to his ole ways in a close game ain’t gonna get it done.

Wink

December 19th, 2009
11:07 pm

Road Hawks lose again. Road Hawks lose again. Iso Joe rears it ugly head & Josh reverts back to jump shooting Josh and ruins the game we could have won in regulation. Why was Crawford not used to close the game out, Woody? Josh tried to get his stats up in the 4th since he missed most of the game in foul trouble. What was Marvin contribution to this game, the guy just can’t put together back to back consistent games. Another one get’s away we should have won…Next?

niremetal

December 20th, 2009
12:28 am

Manny,

Yeah, I use StubHub to get all my tix at this point. But my family was on the verge of killing me for even watching half the Hawks game tonight (my cousin was having a party…and you know how good families are at guilt-tripping), so it was probably for the best that I didn’t go to the game on Friday :shock:

BA

December 20th, 2009
4:39 am

You think that’s really him Melvin?

BA

December 20th, 2009
4:53 am

Ray-

I would answer your question, but I’m in denial that Johnson could possibly leave. I think a Joe Johnson exodus could potentially set this franchise back 5 years.

I think the only way Woodson won’t be back is a first-round exit. As far as the urgency, I’m not sure how often coaches re-up mid season. I thought they should have re-signed the entire staff before this season.

But yes, of course- I concede that a recovery without Woodson would be far more likely than a recovery without the best player the Hawks have had in years.

Unless they just trade him in for that impetulant D-Wade.

Melvin

December 20th, 2009
1:00 pm

BA,

Dont know, it could be..

Simple math last night. We live by Joe and we die by Joe. I think any coach would accept those results. To win or lose the game by the faith of their best player….

Big Ray

December 20th, 2009
2:20 pm

New blog is up guys…..happy holidays to everyone. I’m up north in the ice and snow, with limited computer use, so if you don’t hear from me for a minute, you’ll know why. Cell phone still works though!