Different year. Same personnel (mostly). Different methods. Same results.
The Memphis Grizzlies came into this season with aspirations of truly earning a spot in the western conference as a playoff team. There haven’t been many changes to their roster, certainly no big ones. The Hawks entered this season looking to maintain their position as a top 4 team in the East, and perhaps even have a better playoff showing. Put both thoughts on hold for the moment. Neither team is anywhere close to knowing if their goal is attainable. What we do know is this – the Hawks are still better than the Grizzlies by a double digit margin, and it doesn’t really matter who has what kind of game. Other than the fact that the Hawks look really good running this new offense, there isn’t much to take from a road win against Memphis. At the same time, there isn’t much we can take away from it (the prevailing notion is that the game changes if Marc Gasol is available or Zach Randolph doesn’t get hurt). Let’s compare last year’s results with this year’s, but I’ll keep it short.
Last year vs. Memphis:
- Josh Smith and Al Horford outworked and outperformed the tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in both games, even though not by huge margins. Edge to the Hawks, due in part to athletic ability.
- In the first game, Marvin Williams and Mike Bibby all but disappeared. Both played better in the second game.
- Joe Johnson owns the Grizz whenever he wants to. In the first game, he scored at will. In the second game, he played it cool and dished out assists, while Jamal did all the backcourt damage.
- the bench didn’t figure in much, with the exception of Jamal Crawford. Mo Evans showed up for the second game.
This year vs. Memphis
- Gasol is out, Randolph leaves early with injury. Al Horford and Josh Smith both have subpar games, though Josh collects 5 blocks and 4 assists.
- Marvin and Bibby are both major contributors to the victory with Bibby doing plenty of damage on offense, and Marvin doing damage on both ends of the floor (his defense on Rudy Gay was downright stifling at times).
- the bench absolutely pounds the Grizzlies as 5 reserves account for 50 points and 19 rebounds, led by Zaza Pachulia’s near all-star performance.
See? Different methods, same results.
Just Like Last Year….
Or rather, we hope not. The Hawks set out last year looking to be a better road team, and there was some progress made along some avenues. However, not all was peachy, and the Hawks lost games on the road to teams that just weren’t supposed to be better than them. Included in the list of humbling losses was the trip to Philadelphia, where a determined Sixers squad edged out the Hawks in several statistical categories. Problem is, they did so without the services of the quick and explosive Louis Williams.
This year’s Sixer team won’t enjoy the benefits of the rebound gobbling and shot-changing Samuel Dalembert, which could make it very hard for them to contain Josh Smith and Al Horford. Elton Brand is a long-armed decent defender, but he could get into quick foul trouble trying to keep up with Atlanta’s highly athletic front court, and neither Spencer Hawes, Mareese Speights, or Jason Smith are scaring anybody down low. Add to this that the Sixers have had trouble shooting from range in recent years, and it begins to sound like a very winnable game, right? So thought the Hawks last year. There are several things the Hawks need to do to secure this road win. Here are 3 keys to Friday night’s game, off the top of my head:
1) Win the battle on the glass.
The Sixers may not miss Dalembert’s whining and sometimes inconsistent effort, but with him gone, there is only one true double digit rebounder – Elton Brand. Spencer Hawes is another example of an underachieving 7-footer at center. However, Philly still collects offensive rebounds fairly well, and that is due to the uber-active, incredibly athletic, versatile Andre Iguodala. But that’s not all. Second year point guard Jrue Holiday is sizeable at 6′4″, and can get active on the glass as well. Darius Songaila is savvy in the post, Andres Noccioni scraps and backs down from no one, Thaddeus Young is pretty active, and rookie Evan Turner pulled down 7 boards of his own in his debut against Miami yesterday. If the Hawks don’t put forth the effort to a man, they’ll lose the game due to rebounding alone. Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, and Josh Powell will all put forth the effort, as will Joe Johnson. The Hawks will need more. It has to come from Marvin Williams (already off to a good start), and Josh Smith (not so much).
2) Jeff Teague must play well on defense, or the Hawks will need a scheme of some sort.
A defensive scheme for the Sixers, you say? Whatever for? Andre Iguodala hands it to us every time. In their home victory last year, he hit us for 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. There is no doubt to Iguodala’s skills and versatility. Add the quicksilver Lou Williams to the mix and things become more complicated for an Atlanta backcourt that all too often depends on Joe Johnson to do all the work. Mike Bibby will most likely give the effort, but he simply lacks the speed to keep up with Williams or the bigger Holiday. Rookie Evan Turner may see time at the shooting guard position, and he performed quite well against Miami (7-10 from the field, 16 points). That leaves Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague. Jamal can’t guard the door to a mouse hole on most nights. Teague has the speed and seems more committed than ever to fighting through screens to keep up with his man. Well, the Hawks will need at least 20 minutes of that (if not more), if they want to keep Joe from working too hard on defense, and Iggy and Lou out of the lane all night. Joe can handle Iggy. But nobody else in the backcourt can. The Hawks have to find a way to guard the Sixers’ other guards.
3) Josh Smith needs to dominate inside.
I’ll start this by saying that Al Horford and Elton Brand may find each other matched up quite a bit in this game. Brand is a bit thicker, Al is quicker. We need a good solid game from Al, and there is a chance that he might be more dominant if the opportunity presents itself. However, he’s not necessarily the low post offensive focal point in this game. There is no one on this Philadelphia squad that can challenge Smith on any sort of consistent basis, if he’s attacking the basket. Once again, Samuel Dalembert was the sole obstacle, and he’s no longer there. It behooves both Smith and the Hawks if he leaves his perimeter attempts to a minimum, and makes the Sixers chase him to the rim, where he will punish them over and over, and probably get to the free throw line as well. But will Smith see this? If he doesn’t, and the jumpers don’t fall, will Larry Drew sit him in favor of Josh Powell?
What are YOUR keys to this game?