Greetings! After a disappointing 1-2 performance last week, the Hawks hit the road for a shortened, 2-game slate before the famous All-Star weekend break. Let’s take a look at what to expect.
Hawks @ Mavericks — Monday, February 11th — 8:30 PM ET
This isn’t your older brother’s Dallas Mavericks. At the time of this writing, Dallas is sporting a 22-28 record that is good for 11th in the Western Conference. They are middle of the pack offensively (scoring 102.2 points per 100 possessions), but just 21st in the league on defense (allowing 104.1 points per 100). Dirk Nowitzki is a shell of himself, there isn’t a legitimate front-court presence in the line of Tyson Chandler, and while OJ Mayo has been tremendous on a 1-year deal, no one is scared of anyone on this roster. With all of that said, this is a road game, and since Dallas is 14-9 within the confines of the American Airlines Center while the Hawks are just 10-13 away from home, it still presents a challenge. The Jeff Teague/Darren Collison match-up will be key for the Hawks in this spot, but stopping OJ Mayo will probably be the single biggest key. Who draws the assignment? I’d assume that even a semi-healthy Deshawn Stevenson would see time here, but with his health status, Devin Harris should be the one that garners most of the minutes on Mayo. This is a rare spot where a Harris/Teague backcourt wouldn’t be at a significant size advantage, and that plays into the thoughts of Larry Drew when deploying those two together. Up front, Josh Smith and Shawn Marion will square off in a battle of unique skill-sets, but keeping Chris Kaman in check should be the focal point of the attention in the frontcourt. In addition to Dallas being the tougher of the two opponents on the schedule, it should also be the more entertaining style contrast, and that makes for a must-see.
Hawks @ Magic — Wednesday, February 13th — 7:00 PM ET
Orlando is in an absolute tailspin. Through the first 50 games, the Magic have managed to generate a lowly 14-36 record. This isn’t an absolute abomination in itself, but when you consider that they started the season with a 12-13 mark through 25 games (leaving a 2-23 stretch over the next 25), it has gotten pretty ugly in a hurry. The Magic aren’t blessed with a single offensive difference maker, and while they actually have a collection of players that many teams would want (Afflalo, Vucevic, Redick, etc.), no one strikes fear in the opposition. If there’s a “better” end of the court for the Magic, it is probably defense, but because they are starved for offense, they often deploy sub-optimal defensive lineups. Unfortunately for Atlanta, this is probably a spot where they’ll get the absolute best shot from Orlando, as both teams head into the All-Star break and the Magic will leave it all on the court with several days off following the game. However, if Larry Drew and company can get even a “B+” performance out of the squad, this is an opportunity for a win.
Normally, a week filled with road tilts is not a positive recipe. In this case, both match-ups are eminently winnable, and anything less than a 1-1 split would be fairly disastrous. Momentum is wildly overrated, but heading into the All-Star Break on a “down” streak can’t be a positive outcome. Enjoy the slate!