As some of you have already noted, we’ve been here before.
You know, that run of wins at the beginning of the season. How long will it last this time? Last season saw the Hawks start things up at home, winning two in the Highlight Factory (are we still calling it that?), then going on a foreboding 4 game road trip which featured three tough western conference opponents and an eastern conference nemesis. They returned home having gone 2-2 on the road. Then came the wondrous 7 game winning streak (five of which were at home), and the Hawks stood 11-2 before losing three of their last four in the month of November.
This season? The Hawks won their first two games, which were on the road, and won their home opener for a 3-0 start. Of course, all three wins were against lesser teams. Furthermore, the rest of the November schedule looks fairly promising, if the Hawks can stay focused. Tuesday’s contest will be against a definitely different Cleveland Cavaliers squad, which should be interesting. But the rest of the month? In the remaining 15 games, the Hawks will only be facing playoff teams 6 times (Phoenix, Dallas, Orlando, Utah, and Milwaukee, and Boston). I’d count Cleveland, but without Lebron, there is no certainty that Cleveland still is a playoff team. Atlanta has shown that they can beat four of these teams (the Suns, Bucks, Jazz, and Mavs), while a fifth (Boston) will be up for revenge from last season, and the sixth (Orlando)….well, we’ll see. Here’s the kicker: of the seven road games in November, only one (against Orlando) is against a playoff team (again, excepting Cleveland, who may or may not be in the category now).
Now is definitely the time to take advantage of this. Naturally, we’ll probably still be hedging our comments and reserving outright praise if we leave November with a good record. So, we need a defining factor. My guess is the Hawks should be judged on how they win, if not how often. What do you think?
As mentioned above, there is no guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers are a playoff team anymore. They began the season at home with a bit of a bang, taking down the Boston Celtics. But then, they fell on the road to none other than the Toronto Raptors, the “other” team to lose its lone star player to the Miami Heat. Following this was a loss at home to the Sacramento Kings. The fact is, the Cavs aren’t used to losing in Quicken Loans Arena, sporting a league-best 35-6 home record. Will this still be a tough place to play? The Hawks find out on Tuesday. In the meantime:
Cleveland started the season off by trotting out a starting lineup of Anderson Varejao, Anthony Parker, Ramon Sessions, J.J. Hickson, and Jamario Moon.
While Varejao has filled in admirably as a backup center in the past, he finds himself in fairly unfamilar territory. Ryan Hollins is okay as an athletic energy guy who can give you a good field goal percentage and a few rebounds, but he’s no enforcer of any kind. The Cavs just didn’t just lose “he who shall not be named in Ohio”, they also lost some serious (but aging) beef in Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, leaving their change of pace energy guys to do all the pivot work. On the other hand, they still have somewhat promising forward J.J. Hickson to work with, who will no longer have bigger personalities gobbling up his playing time. And, there’s Antawn Jamison, who has historically given the Hawks problems.
In the backcourt, the Cavs still have former all-star point guard Mo Williams, along with Parker, Daniel Gibson, and Ramon Sessions. However, Williams has yet to play a regular season game due to injury, and the rest of the guards have been shooting rather miserably. Fact is, the Cavs only have four guys averaging double figures in points scored, and the top three are averaging 15, 14, and 13 ppg, respectively.
So who are the Cavs key players? Hard to tell, what with Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao in question, as to whether or not they will play. If neither player can go, that’s arguably the Cavs’ top two guys out. Power forwards J.J. Hickson and Antawn Jamison could get the nod, and they can do some damage. On the flip side, Jamison is struggling badly from the field (31.8% FG) and isn’t giving the Cavs very much in just under 22 minutes per game (6.3 points, 2.3 rebounds).
In the meantime, Daniel Gibson leads Cleveland in scoring (15 ppg) and assists (6 apg)….and he’s doing it off the bench. Say what? That’s right, starter Ramon sessions is the team’s third leading scorer, but averages nearly four times as many turnovers and only half the assists that Gibson does. Could it be defense that has him in the starting lineup?
Advantages vs Traps
On paper, the Hawks should win this game hands down. Of course, that is probably the first sentence uttered in a trap game, so here are a few thoughts that may bear consideration:
- Okay, nobody is happy about LBJ in Cleveland right now, and with a new coach and GM at the helm, things are definitely in a state of flux. Some would say rebuilding altogether, as there are still some nasty contracts on the books. But everybody would like to move on, and the fans will likely try and do that by getting behind the team. Besides, surely the guys left on the roster have two things – pride, and something to prove – right? The team isn’t nearly as formidable as it has been for the last several years. But don’t expect Quicken Loans Arena to turn into a ghost town. Especially if the team gives the fans a reason to cheer them on.
- Jamison usually is a problem for the Hawks. If he’s healthy, he can rebound as good as most “stretch 4s”, if not better. And, he has range out to the 3 point line. Nothing gets a down-on-his-luck scorer a fresh breath of air, like a lax defense.
- J.J. Hickson is another potential “hidden” threat. The Hawks let Memphis forward Darrell Arthur have his way with them. Hickson is more disciplined and some believe he is certainly more talented. Again, lax defense is all that is necessary to let decent players look good, and good players look great.
- How long will Cleveland have issues with their outside shooting. With the exception of Gibson and perhaps Mo Williams, the Cavs aren’t world beaters in this area. I’ll say it again – lax defense wakes any team up.
- Hustle. Expect Hollins and Varejao to hustle their butts off, going after every loose ball. If the Hawks starting big men come in playing lazy, they’ll get eaten up out there by a couple of taller, longer guys. In which case, look for a quick yank in favor of Josh Powell and Zaza Pachulia, who could conceivably post another double double against a team without grade A big men.
- The backcourt. In the past, Joe Johnson has had a few moments of struggle against the defense of guys like Anthony Parker and Ramon Sessions. However, neither guy was ever charged with playing him one on one all game long, and in this new offense, they won’t get a chance to double him up, either. If Joe’s shot is on, and the team keeps feeding him, look for him to get his first 30 point game of the season. In the meantime, Mike Bibby will cruise to double figures as he gets one open look after another. If things go well enough, he may get to sit down while second year man Jeff Teague gets some more experience under his belt, and gets a shot at improving his game (and his confidence). Jamal Crawford will be able to chip in double figure points with ease, and maybe even rookie Jordan Crawford will see five minutes or so.
- The frontcourt. This is where it should really show. Marvin Williams should have a solid game, or he’ll lend credence to the idea that he hasn’t really changed at all, even though it will only be the fourth game of the season. In the meantime, Al Horford stands to have a field day. If Jevale McGee and Andray Blatche couldn’t keep him from a 20 and 10 night, then what are Varejao and Ryan Hollins going to do? Finally, there is Josh Smith, who should also be able to dominate a Cavs front line that won’t likely be able to keep up with them. That is, if he listens to the words coming out of his coach’s mouth.