Greetings! After a short 2-game week, Atlanta will get back to a more customary three-game slate this week with some very interesting opponents on the schedule. Let’s get to it!
Hawks vs. Nuggets — Wednesday, December 5th — 8:00 PM ET
There’s a case to be made that this is the most interesting home game since the Heat came to town on November 7th. Denver has been very disappointing so far this season, starting just 8-9 after many pundits projected 50+ wins for the young team this season. While guys like Kenneth Faried (manimal!) and JaVale McGee (not a misprint) have had fine seasons for Denver, the biggest issue with the Nuggets so far this year has been in their perimeter play. A guy like Ty Lawson, who would normally terrify me, has played sub-par basketball by his standards this year, posting just a 13.4 PER and shooting just 40 % FG with 24% from 3-point land, while prized acquisition Andre Iguodala currently has his worst efficiency numbers since 2006-07. With all of that said, Denver is a very exciting, and potentially dangerous, match-up for Atlanta. The match-up to watch most in this one is Lawson and Andre Miller against the Williams/Teague/Harris trio as the team in control of the pace will likely control the game. Overall, this will be a test for the Hawks and their top-5 defensive efficiency, as Denver will certainly get up and down and challenge them in transition. In addition, ESPN has picked up coverage of the game, and with a late-ish 8:00 pm start, maybe the Philips Arena crowd will be in their seats at tip-off!
Hawks vs. Wizards — Friday, December 7th — 7:30 PM ET
Say hello, once again, to the 1-13 Wizards! In the last match-up with Washington, the Hawks escaped with 101-100 win in overtime thanks to a bucket from Washington being a fraction of a second late. Even with that, this should be a game that Atlanta should cruise in. John Wall still remains out for Washington, and they are currently dead-last in the league in offensive efficiency by a wide margin as they’ve only scored 92.8 points per 100 possessions on the season. With no player averaging more than Jordan Crawford’s 13.1 points per game, it’s easy to see why Washington cannot create offense. They don’t have a floor general in the absence of Wall, and the only players who can create their own shot with any regularity (Crawford and rookie Bradley Beal) are shooting 41% and 34% respectively. Basically, Washington is the worst team in the league, and this is a spot where you’d like to limit the minutes of guys like Horford and Smith.
Hawks @ Grizzlies — Saturday, December 8th — 8:00 PM ET
Memphis may be the worst match-up in the entire league for Atlanta at the moment. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchor the Grizzlies up-front with size and bulk that simply can’t be matched without deploying the “big” line-up and playing Zaza Pachulia 35 minutes on this night. The Grizzlies currently lead the league in defensive efficiency, allowing only 96.4 points per 100 possessions, and their back-court defense, anchored by Tony Allen and Mike Conley, is tremendous. I’m thoroughly intrigued to see what kind of rotation that Larry Drew deploys in this specialized match-up, and I’d love to see a lot of Ivan Johnson and Zaza as opposed to small-ish lineups. In addition, this is probably an ideal spot to play Josh Smith at the 3 (which Drew seems committed to doing for whatever reason) because Rudy Gay is the sort of long-ish player that Josh can match-up well with defensively. This will likely come down to whether the Hawks can hang on the glass with the bulky Grizzlies front-line, and I don’t love Atlanta’s chances, especially on the road here.
Because the Washington game is one that should be taken care of, this week will come down to whether the Hawks can at least split in the two Western conference games. Memphis on the road may be the most difficult game that Atlanta has played all season, and on the 2nd night of a back-to-back, it spells trouble. That puts that much more emphasis on the Denver game Wednesday, as well as taking care of business in the early going on Friday and getting the starters some rest. Stay tuned for some riveting action!