Greetings! The Hawks finish up a road trip with Monday’s game in Denver, but the story of this 4-game week is the higher level of competition. Let’s take a look at the slate to come.
Hawks @ Nuggets — Monday, March 4th — 9:00 PM ET
Going into Denver on the second game of a road back-to-back is basically one of the most difficult things to do on an NBA schedule. The altitude there is one-of-a-kind, the opponent will run you out of the building with tempo, and the Hawks played a grueling game in LA on Sunday night. Sounds great, right!? At any rate, the strength of the Nuggets is their offense, as they score at an impressive rate of 106.9 points per 100 possessions on the season. They have multiple options on the court, but they go as far as Ty Lawson takes them in my opinion. The Teague/Lawson match-up is one of the speediest in the league, and that should be really entertaining. The big challenge, aside from Denver’s pace and offense, is keeping up with the Nuggets on the glass. Denver is 3rd in the NBA in rebound rate (Atlanta is 24th) and they have size/athleticism coupled with the motor and tenacity of Kenneth Faried. This is a very tough spot, and Denver’s 25-3 home record is not a fluke. I’d be surprised if the Hawks went into the Pepsi Center and won.
Hawks vs. Sixers — Wednesday, March 6th — 7:30 PM ET
With all of the glowing things I’ve just said about Denver… Philly is a mess. They enter Philips Arena with a 6-20 road record (as of Monday morning), they have a worse rebounding rate than Atlanta (25th), and the 27th-rated offense in the league. In addition to the statistical disaster, they seem to have quit on Doug Collins, as witnessed by his press conference meltdown last week, and they seem to be a direction-less bunch. Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young are both players that anyone would want, but outside of them, the talent level is pretty low, and they don’t have a dominant offensive player in the (extended) absence of Andrew Bynum. This is absolutely a place where Atlanta should cruise to a victory, but I’ll place the caveat that, well, this is the Atlanta Hawks, and nothing is easy.
Hawks @ Celtics — Friday, March 8th — 8:00 PM ET
When these teams last met at the end of January, the Hawks erased a 27-point deficit to get an overtime win and Rajon Rondo played the overtime after tearing his ACL. What a wild game. At any rate, Atlanta takes the trip to face the Rondo-less Celtics, and these two teams always play entertaining games. Boston has played extremely well in recent days, going without a traditional point guard and running most everything through Paul Pierce. Pierce is a match-up nightmare for anyone, but the Hawks will have to use Stevenson in extended minutes here, and since he doesn’t play on back-to-backs, it may be the Dahntay Jones show in Brooklyn on Saturday. The Celtics are defending at a very high level, and when they deploy the Bradley/Lee backcourt with KG in the middle, the numbers are staggering. Nothing comes easy between these two teams, but it’s a winnable game.
Hawks vs. Nets — Saturday, March 9th — 7:00 PM ET
This series will always be about Joe Johnson, right? This is Joe’s second appearance in Philips Arena as a member of the Nets, and I don’t think it will ever be normal to see him in that uniform. In his initial return to Philips, he shot just 4-15 from the field, but I’d expect a higher level of production (and less anxiety) from Johnson in this match-up. Brooklyn actually has a negative point differential for the season (which is jarring), but their offense isn’t the cause of that. Brook Lopez is a monster, and will present issues for the much smaller Al Horford on the box. It’s critical that Atlanta limits him, as Brooklyn is their best when running everything through their All-Star center. Fortunately, Brooklyn’s defense has been a mess at times, as they’ve allowed almost 104 points per 100 possessions on the season, and none of their multiple front-court options is particularly adept defensively. This could be a big game for Josh Smith, as he squares off with Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries, and Gerald Wallace. That should tell you all you need to know. Overall, the story will center around Joe, but this is a home game against a potential playoff foe for Atlanta, and that’s a big spot.
This is another week where 2-2 may be a desirable outcome. It seems unlikely that the Hawks would go into Denver and get a victory, so it becomes about holding serve at home against Brooklyn and Philadelphia, and a crucial road tilt in Boston to decide the outcome of the week. Stay tuned.