Swept the Boston Celtics for the season. Got swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder for the season.
Well, two games doesn’t make for a real “sweep” in my opinion, or maybe that’s the stubborn, homer-ish Hawk fan in me. Either way, the Thunder beat us both times we played them this season. After losing to them at home, was it reasonable to expect a win against them on the road? Maybe not, but winning on the road is an integral part of a very good team, and it’s also the goal set by General Manager Rick Sund and Head Coach Mike Woodson. As it stands now, the Hawks have gone 6-4 in their last ten games. However, they have also seen their road record sink below .500 (11-12) and have now lost two straight, watching themselves slip back down past Boston by a half game, dropping them to 4th in the East. A chance to rectify some of that presents itself this very evening, with a matchup against the L.A. Clippers.
HAWKS VS CLIPPERS
Is there a franchise with worse luck? Some hope was restored in Clipperland when the drafted Blake Griffin, but like clockwork, he got injured before he could do a thing for them. As the Portland Trailblazers how that feels (repeatedly), but they’re a better built and coached team all the way around. As it is, the Clippers are still not necessarily an easy win. What they lack in depth and other areas, they make up for in size and a solid punch in their top 7 man rotation. Besides, the Hawks are at home, and they should know better by now than to underestimate ANY opponent. Or so one would think.
Battle of the Bigs
If the Hawks thought they had it rough against the Thunder last night, they need to check their man card status. Not only was Oklahoma City less potent through the frontcourt, they were also less athletic. The Hawks have no excuse for being outrebounded handily on both the offensive and defensive boards. Such a lack of effort and desire will be punished severely by the significantly bigger Clippers, who feature the 7′2″ Chris Kaman at center, and the lengthy 6′11″ Marcus Camby at power forward. Kaman is having a find year, leading the Clippers with roughly 20 points per game, and adding 9 boards to go with it. Kaman’s post game fundamentals are quite solid, and he’s managed to stay healthy this year. While he’s no defensive dynamo, it’s never easy to shoot anything near the rim if a 7′2″ guy with long arms happens to be in the area. Next to Kaman is a guy who complements him quite well. Camby is not near the scorer (7.9 ppg) that Kaman is, but he fills all the gaps on defense with a hair below 2 blocks per game (that’s Josh Smith territory), and leads the team in rebounding at darn near 12 per contest.
Suffice it to say that Al Horford and Josh Smith have their work cut out for them tonight. Competing, let alone winning the rebounding battle, will take more than just effort and desire. It will take a supreme determination and 100% athletic hustle on every play. For the Hawks to be successful, Horford and Smith have to hold their own down low, but they also have to find ways to score when the opportunities present themselves. If the Hawks rebound well, they can run. This will help Horford and Smith, as the Clippers bigs can’t possibly catch them in the open court. In half court sets, both guys will have to go right at the Clippers big men, but taking them off the dribble (or Horford utilizing that midrange jumper) will likely be a better bet than trying to play back-to-the-basket against them.
Eric Gordon is one of the better young shooting guards coming up in the league. Too bad playing for the Clippers means near total obscurity for him. Gordon’s athleticism and strength (222 lbs) helps overcome his slightly less than optimal size at the 2 guard position (6′3″), and the young fella shoots a respectable 46% from the field (36% on three pointers). However, he will have quite the challenge in store for him this evening when he faces off against the quiet but deadly Joe Johnson, who is fresh off of a 37 point torching of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Will Joe deliver another encore of sorts, or will Gordon make a name for himself?
Baron Davis is still one of the hardest guys to handle at point guard. You don’t beat him, he beats himself. While Davis isn’t quite what he once was and his shooting percentages are woeful, he is still one of the strongest point guards in the league and can hurt you in a variety of ways. He can penetrate, he can post, and Mike Bibby won’t be able to handle him. For that matter, neither can Jeff Teague or Jamal Crawford. So what to do? Find a way to keep him shooting from the outside. Davis is a streaky shooter at best, but he’s far more dangerous when he can penetrate and score over your bigs (yes, he can do that) or get HIS bigs involved with easy, rim-rattling dunks. If he’s forced to make jump shots, the chances of him not having a big impact are so much better. Can the Hawks manage to stop penetration of the perimeter, or will this continue to be a problem for them?
Wings and Unseen Things
The previously promising young Al Thornton seems to have fallen on darker days. His production is hardly impressive at 11 points and 4 rebounds per game. By the way, if you were one of those people who felt that Thornton was instantly a way better player than Marvin Williams, you might want to slow your roll just a tad. With stats like that, the only difference at this point is shooting percentage and contract status. Thornton has struggled enough to give way to Rasual Butler on many occaions. And really, that’s the guy who bothers me more. Butler is one of the more underrated role players in this league, and whether they will admit it or not, the New Orleans front office and coaching staff are missing that guy even as we speak. Butler is an opportunistic scorer, and while none of his stats jump out at you (his shooting percentages aren’t great either), he is efficient and does a number of the little things that teams need. Butler is also a guy you don’t leave wide open on the perimeter. Lay off him, and he might add two or three 3-pointers to his tally for the evening.
This is the perfect time for Marvin Williams to get rolling, especially on offense. Thornton and Butler aren’t necessarily bad defenders, but neither one can stop Marvin, either. Marvin doesn’t have to score 20 points, but a solid 14 or 15 would do the trick. And while we’re at it, the Hawks might want to think about something: If one of your bigs is on a tear in the first half, how about not forgetting him in the second half? One of the reasons Joe Johnson didn’t get a lot of help in last night’s game is because guys like Josh Smith were all but forgotten in the second half of the game. And nobody’s blaming Joe Johnson for that (hey, dude was hitting HIS shots). But somebody flubbed, right?
Your pick for who the Hawks need to watch out for the most, as well as the Hawk (or Hawks) who have a chance to do the most damage to the Clippers, or who might turn in surprise performances to tip the game in our favor. Light ‘em up!