Okay, that’s more of a “get well soon” wish than it is a dramatic headline.
Not that the Hawks can’t win a game against an inferior opponent without their super sub, but I think we’d all like to see Jamal back to full health, wouldn’t we? But that’s not the only return. Jamal gets to face his old squad tomorrow night, a bunch of guys whom he probably has no ill will for. His old coach? That’s likely another matter altogether. And yet, there is a very low chance that there will be any drama, as Jamal has been nothing but a class act in Atlanta. If anything, he is happy to be winning finally, and would probably like to forget about where he has been and what he has been through.
What You Might Remember
The last time the Hawks marched into Golden State, they slunk back out with a five point loss in a shootout. While Al Horford was out, Zaza Pachulia came up with a serviceable 14 points and 8 rebounds. Marvin Williams played an effective 13 minutes, but never returned to the game. I honestly can’t remember if he got hurt or what, but Mo Evans sure took advantage of the 38 minutes he got, with 21 points and 7 rebounds, before fouling out. Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby dominated the ball, but it just wasn’t enough as the Hawks couldn’t contain Jamal Crawford, Corey Maggette, or Stephen Jackson.
Change of Pace…Or Not
The Warriors no longer have Crawford (as we well know), nor do they have Jackson. What they do have is two younger, shorter, softer guards. Neither guy is what I’d call tough, but there is no underestimating them. Monta Ellis has experienced some injury issues, but unless he comes up lame at game time, the Hawks will have to deal with his wicked first step (not to mention 25 ppg and 5 apg). Meanwhile, rookie pg Stephen Curry is looking better than some of the guys drafted ahead of him, and CJ Watson has been a real boost off the bench. All in all, and despite their record, the Warriors still have something the Hawks tend to struggle with: quick guys who can penetrate, and shooters who not only have no conscience, but the skill level to go with it. They have so many guys who just can’t be left wide open, and they like to run.
One thing the Warriors are lacking, is beef. Andris Biedrins has been the best thing going for Golden State down low for some time. But this year, he is clearly struggling. Once one of the league’s top rebounders and a sure-fire double double guy, Biedrins has faced injury issues early in the season, and then seen his role and minutes diminish as the season wore on. How does a guy go from averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds per game, down to 5 points and less than 8 boards per? It could be a slow recovery from injury. Or, it could be the Don Nelson effect. Ask Jamal Crawford what that disease can do to you.
At any rate, the Warriors have to depend on their guards and wings to “group rebound” in order to survive. This is one area where the Hawks can take advantage. Nobody short of Ronny Turiaf should have a chance at boxing out Horford, and Josh Smith has produced big rebounding figures against bigger/stronger front lines. Both guys should hit double figures in this category. Let me put that another way: they should be DOMINATING Golden State on the boards. There will be no excuse for losing the battle on the glass to a team who has almost no low post options and averages a paltry 38.7 rebounds per contest. However, one of the keys to this is our guards blocking out. Since the Warriors have to rely on their perimeter personnel to get rebounds, those guys will be looking to sneak into the paint to fight for them. It doesn’t matter how you slice it, 5 on 2 or 5 on 3 is never a good proposition, and the Hawks shouldn’t let it happen that way.
At the same time, Atlanta should be able to take advantage in the post on offense. Who’s going to stop Horford? The Clippers couldn’t, and they have a solid starting center. By the same vein, who guards Josh Smith? Anthony Randolph is out with injury, and while guarding him might have presented a challenge, Smith figures to have a field day on both ends of the court (not that Randolph is/was a defensive threat).
Getting a Handle On Things
As always, there is a reason why a team has a losing record, let alone a plain bad one. Having the second highest rated offense is great, but it never is enough to overcome having the absolute worst defense. The Warriors lose the battle of the boards by roughly 8 per game. They routinely score upwards of 107, but also give up nearly 111. But here is where the Hawks truly shine in comparison. The Warriors turn the ball over roughly 16 times per game, an average that wins them the dubious honor of third most in the League. Monta Ellis himself gift wraps over 4 per game to opposing teams. Maggette and Curry are upwards of 2.5 “oopsies” each contest. The Hawks? Fewest turnovers per game with a hair under 12. A stat to be proud of for sure, and something that can determine the outcome of a game all by itself. But a word of caution here: Having fewer turnovers is not a comforting stat if you let the opposing backcourt torch you to the tune of 40 or 50 something points. All the same, if the Hawks can force as many or more turnovers as the Warriors normally commit, then they can exploit them in the form of fast break points.
Pick Your poison
With a team like this, it’s never easy to decide on who is most dangerous. Is it the rookie point guard who is apparently a better overall ball-handler than his more experienced backcourt mate? Is it Ellis? How about sniper Anthony Morrow? CJ Watson lit up the LA Lakers for 20 points, the Kings for 40, and the red-hot Utah Jazz for 22, so he’s on a roll. Will he have it against the Hawks, too? Could Andris Biedrins go for a “rare for this season” ridiculously high rebound total, like he did against the Thunder (18) and the Bulls (19)?
Hawks are the REAL Warriors
There won’t be any sideline drama, but I’m sure Jamal wouldn’t mind sticking his former team (and coach) with a 25-30+ point performance, just to remind them what they lost. Then there’s Joe, who is looking as good as ever, and could explode for 30 anytime and against anybody (just ask the Spurs, Cavs, Thunder, Bulls, Celtics, Heat, Blazers, Thunder, Mavs…).
Or will it be Josh Smith, adding a handful of dimes, steals, and blocks to a double double (or close to it)? Will Horford go off like he did against the Clippers? Anybody think Marvin has another 20+ point game left in him for a West Coast opponent?
How much of the bench will we see? Could depend on just how well the starters do.
Jeff Teague will probably see more of fellow draft mate Stephen Curry from the sideline, but if Crawford is still ailing and Bibby plays badly, the Hawks’ rookie point guard might get to see him up close and personal. If so, how will Teague do against a fellow rookie who is getting far more game time experience? Does Curry’s experience make him a better player, or is his skill level superior? Will Teague be able to effectively defend him, or will he learn yet another lesson? How will Woodson react? How about his teammates?
One thing is for certain. Teague is getting far less up front experience on a team that is planning on going deep into the postseason. Curry is getting far more experience on a team that is going nowhere, fast. While the two guys would undoubtedly envy parts of each other’s situations….would they want to trade places?