Greetings! As the focus shifts back from roster moves to on-court play, the Atlanta Hawks are presented with the unique challenge of a 4-game week that features exclusively road tilts. Let’s take a look at what to expect.
Hawks @ Pistons — Monday, February 25th — 7:30 PM ET
For a stretch now, Detroit has almost become (gasp) entertaining. Jose Calderon makes their offense much, much more watchable, and their pieces fall into place now. Without Andre Drummond, they don’t scare anyone (not that they would even with him), but they are capable of beating Atlanta on their home court. With that said, the Pistons are not particularly good offensively (17th in points per 100 possessions) or defensively (20th in the same category). Greg Monroe and Al Horford is a very interesting match-up of young bigs with nice skill sets, but I think this game will be won/lost in the backcourt. This is a rare spot where there is no defined wing presence for Detroit, so it’ll be crucial that Jeff Teague wins the PG match-up with either Calderon or Knight. This isn’t the easiest game of the week (it’s coming Friday), but this is a winnable spot.
Hawks @ Jazz — Wednesday, February 27th — 9:00 PM ET
No one likes to go to Salt Lake City. At the time of this post, Utah is 21-6 at home (versus 10-18 on the road) and they are a different team within their friendly confines. They present a unique challenge in the front-court, as they feature four legitimate big men headlined by the Al Jefferson/Paul Millsap combination. This is strength versus strength, as Atlanta can throw Horford and Smith out, but a rare night where Atlanta won’t have the defined advantage at those two positions. Fortunately for the Hawks, Utah’s guard play has really suffered in the absence of Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward. With that said, however, they still score with ease (103.8 points per 100) because of their scoring big men, and Randy Foye has been a pleasant surprise in the backcourt offensively. On a neutral court, I believe Atlanta is the better team, but in Salt Lake? It’s probably leaning toward Utah.
Hawks @ Suns — Friday, March 1st — 9:00 PM ET
Phoenix is a mess. They are 27th in offense and 25th in defense, they feature exactly zero “top-50″ players, and no one can figure out what direction they’re heading in. Other than that, things are great! The talent level isn’t a complete disaster (I guess) as I actually enjoy the work of Gortat, Scola, Dudley, and Dragic, but it’s not enough to put any fear into the opposition. Michael Beasley has been inserted back into the rotation (for reasons unknown), and that certainly isn’t helping things on either end. If there is one “worry” for Atlanta (other than venue), it is probably up front, as Phoenix now features at least four capable bigs with the addition of Marcus Morris. Strange things happen (even moreso to Atlanta), but if there was ever a road game to win, this is it.
Hawks @ Lakers — Sunday, March 3rd — 9:30 PM ET
The plight of the LA Lakers is one of the headline stories of the season, but this is Atlanta’s first look at them on the opposing bench. Dwight Howard causes problems for anyone, and while he’s a bit limited this season between back and shoulder troubles, there’s no “good” match-up for him on the Hawks. Al Horford has notorious issues with Howard and with Jason Collins (the Dwight stopper!) gone, I think we’ll see a steady diet of Zaza Pachulia if he can stay out of foul trouble. With Pau Gasol out, LA is going with the more athletic Earl Clark and the 100-year-old Antawn Jamison at the four spot, and that should be a field day for Josh Smith. As far as the perimeter is concerned, I think both teams will be able to score at will. This kind of match-up is the singular reason why Deshawn Stevenson is employed, and the Kobe assignment should be split between Stevenson and possibly newcomer Dahntay Jones. Jeff Teague should take full advantage of his 30 minutes against Steve Nash (everyone) does, but he’ll be key in breaking down the LA defense.
For as “bad” as LA has been this season, they still feature three above-average players, and a top-10 offense in the league. This is probably the toughest match-up of the week for the Hawks, and “expecting” a win would be the wrong approach here. Because of the venue, LA is probably “favored” here, but they are certainly susceptible to athleticism, and if Larry Drew lets Jeff Teague push things, that is an advantage for the Hawks. Visits to LA are always fun.
By virtue of the destinations, this is a thoroughly trying stretch of games for Atlanta. However, there is a chance that, now that all of the off-court issues are put to bed, the team could come together and reel off a string of wins. At any rate, it will be entertaining. Stay tuned for a busy slate!