Sorry for the delay. No good excuse, just a lot going on.
Anyway, some thoughts about the game tonight. Again, like Detroit, it’s a game the Hawks should win, only more so, given that they’re at home. Toronto has lost four in a row and five of the last six. Plus, I get the sense that the team has reached a similar level of frustration that it had after Charlotte, which was the catalyst for the seven-game winning streak. Not saying they’ll reel off seven in a row again, given that they play Dallas on the road in three games, but I think they’re in a better frame of mind than last week. But, what do I know.
It’ll be interesting to see how Joe Johnson fares. As I wrote earlier this week, he is in a pretty decent slump. Mike Woodson conceded that some of the misses have been forced, but is going to keep riding him. Said Woodson, “when he’s making those forced shots, nobody’s saying a [darn] thing.”
Obviously, the matchup to watch is Al Horford and Chris Bosh. As you well remember, Dwight Howard took it to Horford (and the entire team) pretty good on Thanksgiving, and perhaps well he should have. This isn’t quite the same matchup, as Bosh plays away from the paint and doesn’t quite have Howard’s size, but it’ll be a good test for Horford.
What worries the Hawks against Toronto is the Raptors’ pace of play, which Woodson compared to Phoenix and New York. If the Raptors can get in a flow and start nailing 3-pointers, it could be a long night. They made 11 of 17 in a 131-124 road loss to San Antonio and 9 of 15 in a 120-113 win over Miami.
In the locker room the last few days, there’s been a lot of talk about being happy where they are (12-5) and how they want to move on to a good December. It strikes me as kind of a convenient way to dismiss what has happened the past four games, but I do think the reality is this team is going to play well in spurts and struggle in others. Just like it was unreasonable to expect that they were going to play the way they were in winning seven in a row, I think it’s also unlikely that the way they’re playing now will keep going.
I think perhaps what the team will need to get to the 50-win plateau is just to minimize the slumps, not letting three-losses-out-of-four get to seven-out-of-nine.
Think about this. If they win two out of three the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 59 wins, which would put them in the mix, I’d think, for the division title. Given the way they play at home, I don’t think this is out of the question. That’s 16-16 on the road and 24-9 at Philips in the final 65 games of the year.
I have no idea how much Jeff Teague will play tonight. It seems like one factor for Woodson in dispensing time for subs, perhaps the key one, is matchups. You’d think Jarrett Jack would be an applicable one for Teague. He’s gotten a lot of work with the first unit in practice since Mike Bibby went down with his ankle against New Orleans two Saturdays ago. I’m not sure how much we’ll see of him with that unit yet. I didn’t get the sense that the starters were completely comfortable with Teague yet in that group. Perhaps tonight is the night.
One thing I’ll throw out that I thought was interesting was a point that Johnson made about how the Hawks have so many interchangeable parts that it’s not easy for Teague to get in. Yes, you could certainly say he’s the backup point guard, but in a way, so is Jamal Crawford, who isn’t normally someone you want to take away minutes from. Just a thought. I’m with most of you in that I’d love to see him play more in that he’s a lot of fun to watch.
One link: Ball Don’t Lie named Josh Smith its most improved player of the season thus far. I think the national love for the Hawks may cool for awhile.