Greetings! Atlanta hits the road for three of the four games this week, and the road isn’t always kind this time of year in the NBA. Let’s take a glance at what to expect.
Hawks @ Pacers — Monday, March 25th — 7:00 PM ET
The first game of the week doubles as the single toughest match-up. Atlanta is on the second of a road back-to-back (while Indiana had a day off Sunday) and facing the best team on the slate this week. Though the Hawks are 2-1 against Indiana this season, the Pacers are a significantly better team on paper, and they are playing at home here. Indiana leads the league (by a wide margin) in defensive efficiency, allowing only 95.4 points per 100 possessions, and they don’t have any weaknesses on that end of the court. Al Horford will match-up with Roy Hibbert on the box, and Hibbert is one of the more difficult match-ups for Al in the league, just because of a simple size disparity. Paul George is the key to Indiana’s offense, and with Deshawn Stevenson getting the day off on Sunday, he’ll draw the assignment on Monday night. George is one of the best young wings in the league, and Deshawn will have his hands full. With all of the “tough” statistics, etc. for Atlanta here, they can certainly beat Indiana, but they’ll have to put a full 48 minutes together, and it’s a tall task on a back-to-back. Update: David West is doubtful for Monday night’s game, and as their 2nd/3rd best player, this is a big loss for Indiana. Let’s see if Atlanta can take advantage.
Hawks @ Raptors — Wednesday, March 27th — 7:00 PM ET
Toronto has lost four games in a row at the time of this post, and they are a bit of a mess. The Raptors combine a bottom-10 defense with simply league-average offense, and they’re in discussions on shutting their mid-season acquisition (Rudy Gay) down with back issues. Sounds great, huh!? Anyway, the Raptors present some size issues up front with the Hawks as they can deploy Valanciunas and Amir Johnson (a personal favorite of mine) at the same time to counteract the quickness advantage of Horford and Smith. Kyle Lowry is a match-up nightmare for anyone when he’s healthy, also, and Jeff Teague will have to deal with his relentless ball pressure for 35 minutes or so. In the end, Toronto is below .500 at home (17-18), and this is easily the best spot for a stolen win on the road trip. This is a game that a home-court-advantage team in the East wins. Period.
Hawks @ Celtics — Friday, March 29th — 7:30 PM ET
The final match-up of the year with Boston is upon us. Though the Hawks have lost 2 of 3 to the C’s this year, all three have been grinding, competitive battles, and I’d expect nothing less in this one. Boston has lost four games in the row at the time of this post, and they are suddenly struggling since their epic, Jeff Green-led battle with Miami. The story is always the same with the Celtics, as they’re playing top-5 defense for the season, and the numbers are even better without Rajon Rondo in the lineup thanks to the emergence of one of the best defenders in the league in Avery Bradley. However, they can’t score (22nd in the league) and if the Hawks can hold either Pierce or Garnett down (with Jeff Green thrown in), they have the advantage on that end of the court. The match-up to watch for me is Jeff Green against Josh Smith, as both guys have incredibly high ceilings, but each of them is incredibly enigmatic. Whoever gets the better of that battle has the upper hand.
Hawks vs. Magic — Saturday, March 30th — 7:00 PM ET
This is one of the easier spots on the NBA calendar. Orlando has the 2nd-worst record in the NBA (ahead of only Charlotte) and the Hawks have them coming into Philips Arena reeling. With that said, the Hawks are famous for no-showing the first game of a home-stand after a long road trip, and it is a back-to-back after what is sure to be a battle in Boston. Atlanta is 3-0 with comfortable wins over Orlando this year, and the Magic don’t present anything specifically that will give the Hawks fits. I have my guard up, but with Orlando being in the bottom five (26th) in both offensive and defensive efficiency, it’s difficult to pick against the Hawks in this one.
With the exception of Indiana on Monday night, the Hawks aren’t a signficant underdog in any game this week, despite seeing 3 of the 4 opponents on the road. With the comfort of an Orlando home game on the schedule, I think 2-2 is perfectly reasonable, but Atlanta could really use a 3-1 week to stay alive in the hunt for home-court advantage in round one. Should be a fun slate.