Greetings! The second of back-to-back four-game weeks is upon us, and the slate is pretty interesting. Let’s take a look at what to expect from the next 7 days.
Hawks @ Wizards — Tuesday, December 18th — 7:00 PM ET
It’s the Wizards! The 3-18 Wizards are a complete disaster and the Hawks are 2-0 against them this season. So, why should there be any skepticism and/or worry about this one? Well, if you take a look at the two previous match-ups, Washington competed very well in both, and there’s no question that the Wizards should’ve won the 101-100 decision on November 21st before giving the game away late. That is, however, the most positive thing I can say about the Wizards, and, even on the road, Atlanta should be able to take advantage of Washington’s league-worst 93.4 points per 100 possessions on offense. The best recipe for a defense that has been struggling is the sight of the hapless Wizards.
Hawks vs. Thunder — Wednesday, December 19th — 7:30 PM ET
The defending Western conference champions make their one and only visit to Philips Arena on Wednesday night. It seems like forever ago when the Hawks went into OKC and defeated the Thunder on November 4th, but it is pretty early in the season to be wrapping up a season series. The most impressive thing about the first meeting was the fact that Atlanta won without Josh Smith and the Hawks were able to hold Durant (7-17) and Westbrook (5-18) under wraps for the entire night. I wouldn’t expect that defensive dominance to continue against the league’s most efficient offense (111.3 points per 100 possessions), but it is encouraging to see that it can be done. Keep an eye on Deshawn Stevenson, as he’ll likely garner the majority of the Kevin Durant assignment, and this is the exact match-up that strikes terror in the hearts of any Hawks fan with extended fears about wing defense. This is one of the most exciting possible match-ups for the Hawks, and I’d even expect a lively (gasp) crowd at Philips for this one.
Hawks @ Sixers — Friday, December 21st — 7:00 PM ET
On Friday, we get our first look at the Andrew Bynum-less Philly squad. The Sixers have battled to a 12-12 record despite their lackluster offense, and being without their dominant center for the entire campaign so far. Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young are the leading trio for Philadelphia, and each player has made strides this year when compared to previous seasons. Fortunately for Atlanta, the match-ups are favorable here for the Hawks defensively, as Turner isn’t an explosive scorer, Young can be mirrored (and potentially neutralized) by Josh Smith, and Jrue Holiday will garner the attention of the combo guard triumvirate. This is a perfect opportunity for the Smith/Horford combo to go wild, as Philly is an even worse rebounding team than the Hawks, and, playing without Bynum, they have an undermanned front-line. With all that said, a road game against a solid opponent is never easy, and Philly is capable of the “upset” here.
Hawks vs. Bulls — Saturday, December 22nd — 7:30 PM ET
Derrick Rose isn’t walking through that door…. and the Bulls are still 13-10. Chicago has managed to stay afloat despite being without their superstar, and much of the credit can be given to Thibodeau and their elite-level defense. The Bulls are currently 2nd in the league in defensive efficiency (96.5 points per 100 possessions at the time of this writing) and they are top-5 in the league on the glass. Joakim Noah has made the leap for Chicago and he’s been a double-double guy at 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. Keep an eye on the battle of former college teammates as Noah matches up with Al Horford, and the winner of that match-up will likely be the winner of the game. Chicago is a fairly easy team to defend, and At
Overall, this is a fairly challenging stretch for Atlanta, with an upper-echelon team in OKC, a tough grind-it-out game against Chicago, and a quick road trip to a decent Philly team on the slate. Going 3-1 or 4-0 this week would be very impressive, and a 2-2 week wouldn’t be overly disappointing. Keep an eye on the overall defensive effort/output for the Hawks, as the defense has slipped a bit in recent days, and in order to have a winning week, the top-10 defense will have to re-emerge. Stay tuned for a great week!