Last night’s game against the Detroit Pistons was a nice reminder that the Hawks can indeed blow out inferior opponents. Did the Hawks need such a reminder? Maybe, maybe not, but it sure was a nice treat for us, the fans.
Improving their home record to a sterling 26 and 7, the Hawks go on the road Tuesday to play the Nets, and follow that up with a trip to Toronto the very next day. While back to back games are no joke, much less on the road, this isn’t exactly the toughest two game stretch for a good team. Win both, and the Hawks can go two games over .500 on the road.
Eyes on the Race
The win against Detroit puts the Hawks a meager half game above the Celtics, who face the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers in Quicken Loans arena this afternoon. Cleveland is 28 and 4 at home, one of the few teams that has a better home record than the Hawks, so by the end of the day, we could have a larger (though still tenuous) lead at the #3 spot. Stay tuned….
HAWKS VS. NETS
While the fabulous free agent summer of 2010 probably is enough to keep the Nets’ front office distracted from all the losing, it can’t be doing much for the players and coaching staff. With New Jersey trying to avoid the worst season record ever (have they done so already? I don’t even know what the worst record is…), a sense of desperation has set in. But will it be enough to even be competitive with the Hawks?
In the first matchup, the Nets lost to the Hawks by 23 points in Phillips Arena as 7 Hawks players reached double figures in scoring, including rookie point guard Jeff Teague (12 points, 3 assists, 2 steals). Some argued that such a lopsided loss was due to New Jersey was missing five rotation players, and the Nets sought to redeem themselves with a fully healthy squad in their second trip to Phillips Arena. However, the Hawks decided to drive the point home enroute to a 30 point victory this time around, behind performances by Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford.
Center of Attention
Brook Lopez is the centerpiece of the New Jersey offense, and the man whom the Nets will build around (although, who they manage to nab in this summer’s Sweepstakes will make for an interesting twist to the storyline). After getting snubbed for the all-star team this year, and watching rival center Al Horford get his first bid to the Big Game, Lopez just might try and make this matchup personal. Or, he may be more concerned with trying to get an 8th win for the season. Either way, the matchup has been pretty close between the two this season. The 7′0″ (prototype) Lopez has averaged 15.5 ppg and 10 rpg against the Hawks, while the 6′10″ (undersized) Horford has put up 12 ppg and 9.5 rpg against the Nets. Not too shabby, considering Lopez is quite often his team’s first offensive option, while Horford is the Hawks’ fourth offensive option most of the time (though he is third on occasion). Another intriguing matchup would be Josh Smith vs. Yi Jianlian, but it seems that Yi, who was more effective against the Hawks than most, will be missing due to injury. The Nets will be hard pressed to stop the versatile Smith, who dished out a season high 11 assists against Detroit.
In the backcourt, the Nets have no clue how to stop Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford. They may not be able to handle Mike Bibby or even rookie Jeff Teague. While Devin Harris is a talented load, and Courtney Lee is improving, the Nets really are at a disadvantage here.
So which matchups do you think will be most pivotal (no pun intended…well, maybe a little bit)? Which Hawk will have the best game? Which New Jersey Net will shine the brightest in what is otherwise a very dark season?
THE TRIPLE “P” (Possible Playoff Preview)
With most teams having between 16 and 19 games left in the season, the playoff picture isn’t quite set just yet. The Magic still give chase to the Cavs, despite a 4.5 game deficit. The Hawks are in a very tight battle with the Celtics for third place. After that, things get pretty dicey. The surging Milwaukee Bucks have gone 9 and 1 in their last 10 games, losing only to…guess who? Your very own Atlanta Hawks. However, the question remains whether or not they can sustain their late season run and keep possession of the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Close on their heels are the Bobcats and Heat, both of whom are just two games behind. Trailing by 3 games are the Toronto Raptors, who haven’t been able to keep up the level of play that had them sitting in fifth place just a couple/few weeks ago. Can the Raptors, who have gone 2 and 8 in their last 10 games, get back to form, or will they end up having to settle for trying to keep Chicago from pushing them out of the playoffs?
Interestingly enough, the change in position in the standings amongst the teams competing for the “lower 4″ playoff seeds has been as much about losing as it has winning, and the explanation seems to come best by examining how each team has performed in their last 10 games. Toronto looked good before losing 8 of their last 10, going from 5th to 8th. The Chicago Bulls also lost 8 out of their last 10, sliding from as high as 6th or 7th, down to 9th place, currently out of the playoff picture. On the winning side, the Bucks have gone 9 and 1 in their last 10, as mentioned above. The Bobcats, who were out of the playoff picture for a few moments, have gone 6 and 4 in their last 10. Both teams put 5 game winning streaks on the line today. Amidst all the winning and losing, the Miami Heat are the only team that have broken even at 5 and 5, which has been good enough to keep them at 7th in the East.
Is Miami sliding backwards, having been the 5th seed last season? Does Dwayne Wade and his supporting cast not have enough anymore? Jermaine O’Neal is a mild bit of help, but Michael Beasley is nowhere near what the Heat need him to be yet. Or is it that the other teams (Charlotte, Milwaukee, etc) are really significantly better than they were last season? I’m thinking it’s more the latter than it is the former, though obviously a bit of both.
Getting back to Toronto…
The Hawks need to pay attention to opponents like the Raptors as the season nears its end. Why? Possible Playoff Preview. Anything can happen in these last games. The Hawks could end up losing 3rd place to the Celtics while the Raptors could go on another run and recapture 5th place, making for a first round matchup. Or, neither could happen. The likelihood of either scenario is debatable, but possible. But what do YOU think will happen? Will the Hawks stave off the Celtics? Will the Bucks and Bobcats prove to be the toughest of the pack of teams in the lower four seeds, proving themselves to be first round matchup nightmares? This is something we’ll have to keep an eye on, and continue to talk about until the regular season is over.