Vivlamore reporting following the Hawks’ morning shootaround. Here is an early start on your game thread.
The Hawks will be challenged defensively on the perimeter right off the bat. For here comes the Rockets and newly acquired guard James Harden for tonight’s season opener.
Harden lit up the Pistons for a game-high 37 points, on 14 of 25 shooting, in the Rockets’ 105-96 season-opening victory Wednesday at Detroit. He also had 12 assists making him the first-ever NBA player to score 37 or more points and have double-digit assists in his team debut. The 6-foot-5 Harden could present problems for 6-3 Devin Harris and 6-5 DeShawn Stevenson, two who figure to draw much of the defensive assignment.
“I did,” Harris said with a slight smile when asked if he watched the Rockets-Pistons game. “He’s a good player. He’s a max (contract) player for a reason. He’s tough. We’ll throw a lot of different guys at him. The main thing is to try to keep him off the free-throw line and keep him out of the paint.”
Harden was acquired by the Rockets from the Thunder earlier this week. He also signed a contract worth a reported five years and $80 million. Stevenson said Harden will be brimming with confidence after signing such a deal.
Hawks coach Larry Drew said the challenge will be stopping the Rockets’ predominately pick-and-roll offense with Jeremy Lin and Harden.
“The best we can,” Drew said when I asked how he will defend Harden. “He is really good. We have to do a good job collectively. As I told the guys today, he won’t be just one man’s responsibility. We have to make sure that we zero in and just be solid. We’ve worked on a lot of different things over the preseason, particularly playing against guys like him. We have to stick with our concepts and stick with our principles.
“It will give us a good chance, as a measuring stick, to see where we stand, particularly defensively. You won’t play against as many guys as good and as aggressive as James Harden. It will be a good test for us.”
The Hawks will be without back-up center Johan Petro, who is out with a sore back. Drew said Petro is “getting better and better” but held him out for precautionary reasons.
That leaves the task of stopping the Rockets’ 7-foot center Omer Asik to Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia.
“With Asik, he’s a load,” Drew said. “He takes up a lot of space in the middle. We are just going to have to do a good job on him. When he was in Chicago, he did really well for them and he seems to have found on home with (the Rockets). We may not be able to match size right off the bat, but we have to be able to match physicality. We really focus on what we need to do and if we do that, we should be OK.”
Drew, once again, declined to announce his starting lineup saying it was a “game-time decision.”
Check back before the game for updates.
- Chris Vivlamore
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