Greetings! The holidays are upon us, and while the Atlanta Hawks aren’t featured on Christmas Day (maybe one day soon?), there are still three games to consume between Christmas and New Year’s. Let’s take a look at what’s on the docket.
Hawks vs. Pistons — Wednesday, December 26th — 7:30 PM ET
Seeing the 9-21 Pistons on the schedule following a 3-day holiday vacation is a beautiful thing for the Hawks. After a tough 4-game week that saw a 2-2 win/loss record, this should be a well-rested Atlanta team, and they are much, much better than Detroit. The Pistons are 18th in the league in defensive efficiency (102.9 points per 100 possessions) and 22nd in the league in offensive efficiency (99.7) for a great recipe of their less-than-mediocre performance. Greg Monroe could give the Hawks fits up front, as the former Georgetown standout is leading Detroit in points (15.6), rebounds (9.0), and steals (1.43), but Al Horford should match-up with him for the majority of the evening, and that’s a battle that should at least warrant a draw for Atlanta. On the perimeter, the Hawks have the opportunity to take advantage of a back-court that does not feature any difficult length and/or talent on the wing, as Detroit’s best perimeter players are likely Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey, who wouldn’t present a size advantage over Lou Williams and Jeff Teague. This game is a perfect opportunity for Atlanta to get “healthy” against an inferior opponent at home, and anything less than a comfortable victory would be a disappointment.
Hawks @ Cavs — Friday, December 28th — 7:30 PM ET
In their last meeting on November 30th, Atlanta experienced their biggest “upset” loss of the season at the hands of the Cavs without the benefit of their best player in Kyrie Irving. Even with Irving back for round two, however, Cleveland is a dismal 6-23 overall, and they present an eminently beatable opponent. Anderson Varejao is having the best year of his career, averaging over 14 points and 14 rebounds per game, and his energy is unmatched throughout the league. One of the keys to the game will be the ability of Smith and Horford to keep Varejao and the Cavs young big Tristan Thompson off of the glass. Cleveland’s season-long offensive efficiency numbers are still in the tank (29th best at 97.3) but with the dynamic Kyrie Irving in the lineup, this is a much different team. Jeff Teague will have the opportunity to match-up with Irving from the opening tip, and this is a nice barometer for Teague to measure himself by. Atlanta is certainly the better team in this match-up and a little bit of revenge probably isn’t a bad thing for the Hawks, but Cleveland is certainly capable of holding their own at home as long as Irving and Varejao are active. Should be a fun game to watch.
Hawks vs. Pacers — Saturday, December 29th — 7:00 PM ET
At 16-12, the Pacers have rebounded from a hideous start to the season, and re-established themselves as the team to beat in the Central Division. Without Danny Granger in the lineup to facilitate offense, Indiana’s numbers on that end of the floor have been pretty ghastly, as they’ve only managed to score 97.7 points per 100 possessions (28th in the league) on just 42.6% shooting from the field (27th in the league). Granger won’t be back for the foreseeable future, so the emphasis is placed on Paul George, George Hill, Roy Hibbert, and David West to pick up their offensive outputs. West presents a unique mid-range game that could be a challenge for Josh Smith, and at the very least, will pull him away from the basket at times to eliminate his shot-blocking prowess. Hibbert is also a difficult match-up for Atlanta due to his shear size advantage over Al Horford, but the former Georgetown center has struggled mightily this year, averaging just 10 points a game on a horrendous 40.4% shooting (for a 7-footer!). The biggest challenge on this night for Atlanta will be scoring on Indiana’s elite defense. The Pacers lead the entire NBA in defensive efficiency, and they’ve managed to bottle even the most high-powered opponents up defensively. Indiana also leads the league in defending the 3-point line at a 31% clip, so any offense from Kyle Korver and/or Anthony Morrow in this one should be considered a bonus. This is certainly the “marquee” match-up of the week, but also is one that the Hawks can win, especially in Philips Arena.
In the end, this is far from the most difficult of 3-game slates, as both Cleveland and Detroit are bound for the lottery, and Indiana is still playing short-handed. A 2-1 (or 3-0, to be fair) output would be expected, and anything less than that would and should cause the natives to grow restless. Merry Christmas!