Greetings! The long (very, very long) All-Star break is behind us and the Hawks face a challenging/interesting 3-game slate in the coming week. Let’s take a look.
Hawks vs. Heat — Wednesday, February 20th — 8:00 PM ET
Any time you face off with the defending champions, it’s a big game. However, this time the spotlight is even brighter than usual. LeBron James is in the midst of the best stretch of play in his entire career and the Heat looked for all the world like they were destined to repeat when they demolished Oklahoma City on Thursday night.
Miami leads the league in offensive efficiency, scoring more than 110 points per 100 possessions, and the match-ups will dictate some big time disadvantages for Atlanta. Due to the roster make-up, the Hawks will be forced to use Josh Smith on LeBron for long stretches. This is the type of game where a healthy DeShawn Stevenson should see extended time on either D.Wade or James as well. Chris Bosh is actually a good match-up for Al Horford, but it would help if Big Al could win that face-off decisively to make up for the trouble elsewhere.
If LeBron plays at the same level that he has over the past month, it’s almost impossible to beat Miami. However, if they can slow him a bit and keep Wade in check, there’s hope. At any rate, this is going to be a fun watch.
Hawks vs. Kings — Friday, February 22nd — 7:30 PM ET
Let’s all welcome Sacramento to town! The Kings are 19-35 at the time of this post and they feature the league’s worst defense, allowing over 108 points per 100 possessions. Their roster never made sense from the beginning (a million power forwards, a million combo guards, not much else), and while their overall talent level isn’t disastrous, things don’t match up.
DeMarcus Cousins could pose serious issues up front as an offensively-skilled mauler, but if Al Horford and the Hawks can keep him out of the deep box he can be neutralized. This is also a good match-up (size-wise) on the perimeter for Atlanta, as the Kings deploy several small guards in a similar mold to the Harris/Teague/Jenkins trio. With all of that said, this is the absolute picture of a “letdown” spot and if Atlanta somehow wins on Wednesday night look for some possible early-game struggles against an over-matched Sacramento team.
This is a game you have to win, especially at home. Oh, did I mention that this is the first game after the trade deadline? hmmmmmmmm…..
Hawks @ Bucks — Saturday, February 23rd — 8:30 PM ET
Speaking of teams that may not look the same after the trade deadline, the Milwaukee Bucks are an interesting case-study. We’ll ignore that possibility for the purposes of this preview, and focus on the “now”.
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis form the enigmatic, shoot-first combo in the back-court and while they can single-handily lose Milwaukee some games, they are also more than capable of beating Atlanta by themselves if they have it going. Up front, the Bucks will use a lot of defense-only guys (Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, Sam Dalembert), but the Josh Smith/Ersan Ilyasova face-off could be the deciding factor in the game. Fortunately for Atlanta, Milwaukee’s home-court has been virtually non-existent this season (14-12 home record as of posting), and this is the type of road game that is easily winnable. Atlanta has the better roster, but it’s a coin-flip game.
Any week that features Miami is big, but the Milwaukee game will likely make-or-break the week. The biggest story will likely be off the court as the Josh Smith trade rumors pick up in full effect. However, on the court this one could go either way based on which Atlanta team decides to show up.
At worst, it’ll be interesting. At best? Franchise-altering.