Greetings! As Atlanta comes off of a disappointing performance against Chicago on Saturday, the defensive gauntlet heats up yet again with a tough back-to-back to start the week, before letting up on Friday night. Let’s take a look at what to expect.
Hawks @ Pacers — Tuesday, February 5th — 7:00 PM ET
This is the toughest game of the week in my estimation. Because of the venue (the game is in Indiana) and the match-up, this isn’t a game that Atlanta is “supposed” to win. Indiana currently leads the entire NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing only 96.3 points per 100 possessions, and this stinginess has led them to a 28-19 mark in the standings. Part of the success of the Indiana defense is their elite rebounding rate, which also leads the league at 52.7%, and the size advantage that they pose is significant, with 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert manning the paint. Fortunately for Atlanta, the Pacers’ offense is less than spectacular, and that makes them a beatable opponent, even on the road. Look for Al Horford to present all kinds of trouble for Hibbert, as Horford’s range makes it difficult for the lumbering Hibbert to close out on mid-range jump shots, and if Al can pull him away from the basket, that should open up driving lanes. On the perimeter, the Jeff Teague vs. George Hill match-up could decide the outcome, as both guys seem to spur their team’s offensive success. Should be a fun one.
Hawks vs. Grizzlies — Wednesday, February 6th — 7:30 PM ET
Memphis is basically a better version of Indiana, but fortunately, this game is at Philips Arena. I’m eager to see the how the Grizzlies look as a result of their recent roster changes that sent Rudy Gay and Marreese Speights out, and replaced them with the Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, and Ed Davis. These were mostly cost-cutting measures, but it could be a blessing in disguise for Memphis, as Gay had struggled, and the Speights-to-Davis change is an upgrade. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph present a very, very difficult match-up for Smith and Horford, as both guys will be at a significant size/strength disadvantage in this one. On the plus side, Memphis doesn’t present any lethal shooters on the perimeter, so the Hawks may be able to speed them and cause havoc without threat of being burned by open threes. Look for Kyle Korver to be a focus of the offense for Atlanta, as Memphis will be keying on Smith and company in the lane. This may be the second consecutive game where the point guard match-up decides things, as Mike Conley plays suffocating defense, and Jeff Teague will need to be able to initiate offense to keep things going for Atlanta. Memphis isn’t a fun team to play, but the Hawks did get a win in Memphis by a 93-83 tally back in December, so confidence shouldn’t be lacking.
Hawks vs. Hornets — Friday, February 8th — 7:30 PM ET
New Orleans is a completely different animal than the previous two games. The Hornets are a lowly 27th in defensive efficiency, but present a more varied challenge on the other end, and when Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis are both healthy, they are a talented team. Ryan Anderson presents a unique challenge with power forward size and unlimited range, as he’s making a case for the 6th man of the year award with 17 points a game off the bench. I’m eager to watch Anthony Davis face off with Horford and Smith up front, as the rookie has been impressive defensively, but hasn’t gotten the focus thanks to an early-season injury and the break-out season of Damian Lillard in Portland. If there was ever a game to see the Atlanta offense get healthy, this is it, and it will probably look like New Orleans is a college team on defense after going through the Chicago/Indiana/Memphis trio in consecutive games.
With the gauntlet that is the Tuesday/Wednesday back-to-back, a 2-1 week looks pretty appetizing here. Friday’s game against New Orleans presents a high likelihood of victory, but with this team’s penchant for no-shows, nothing is off of the table. At the very least, we can expect some entertaining games (if you like defense), and hopefully, the wins will follow.