Posted by lethalweapon3 in lethalweapon3's Pre-Game Preview Blog, 25 November 2014 - · 12 views
“Don’t hate! This is far easier than selling my sneaker line!”
Our Atlanta Hawks sit 4.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference, and their next two opponents, the Toronto Raptors and tonight’s opponent, the Washington Wizards (7:00 PM Eastern, SportSouth, CSN Washington) rule the roost. Owing to the collective mediocrity of the conference, Atlanta’s also just 4 games out of the next-to-last spot in the East. Coming off their final three-day rest period before the All-Star Break, in which direction will the Hawks move this week?
Under former Hawks forward and current Wizards coach Randy Wittman, Washington’s approach is essentially to dominate the scoring inside the perimeter. A league-high 66.3% of their points are two-pointers, and an NBA-high 59.5% of those twos are assisted. John Wall (career-high 19.4 PPG and 9.1 APG) is still not a reliable 3-point bomber (27.6 3FG%), yet he has been finding his groove within the free throw circle and around the right elbow. And of course, they have Nene and Marcin Gortat pounding away in the paint.
Meanwhile, the Wizards put the defensive squeeze on anyone else daring to force the ball inside. An NBA-low 22.9 opponent shots per game are taken in the restricted area, a league-low 34.8 per game in the paint. Led by Wall (NBA-high 2.7 SPG; prior career-high 1.8 SPG), the Wizards steal the ball away 2.1 times more than their foes (3rd-highest differential in NBA).
The Wizards are willing to gamble that opponents won’t be capable of keeping up by hoisting long-range shots, especially if they use their own guards (particularly Wall, and the savvy vet Andre Miller) to control the ball and limit their foes’ possessions. Opponents’ effective field goal percentage of 48.2% is the second-lowest in the East, while opponents’ 17.4 turnovers per 100 possessions ranks second only to Toronto. That’s helped the Wizards, a notoriously slow-starting team, to break out on top of the Southeast Division at 9-3, their best record to this point of the season in four decades.
Against resurgent Milwaukee on Saturday, Washington (who saw this as a “trap game” after topping LeBron’s Cavs the night before) conceded a season-high 27 points to Bucks guard Brandon Knight and a career-high 20 points to Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the Wizards forced 5 turnovers from Knight, while his and Giannis’ teammates shot 36 percent from the floor, including 2-for-10 from three-point distance. Limiting Milwaukee to 12 second-half points-in-the-paint, Washington was able to swing a 15-point second-quarter deficit into a 15-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Hawks won’t catch a break from Bradley Beal (16.7 PPG, 51.2 FG% through 3 games), who returned a bit early after recovering from a preseason wrist injury. Wittman has preferred to bring Beal off the bench in favor of his opening-day replacement, Garrett Temple, partially due to a desire for bench scoring (Martell Webster may be out for another month), a prod to get Beal to play better defense, and a preference not to abruptly upset winning chemistry. But with People’s Temple only moderately more disastrous than Garrett Temple has been (2-for-26 FGs in last 7 games as a starter, zero FGs in past 4 games), it won’t be long before Beal gets paired up with Wall once again. How long Temple stays in will depend on how long he can keep Kyle Korver (56.7 3FG%) in check.
The Wizards picked up free agent reinforcements over the summer (Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries, Rasual Butler, DeJuan Blair) as they anticipate injuries to key big men Marcin Gortat and Nene. The latter checked out of Saturday’s win after six minutes due to plantar fasciitis, while Otto Porter did not play due to soreness in his thigh. Much like he did in Brooklyn, habitual Hawks troll Pierce (13.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 39.7 FG%) ably stepped in at power forward and chipped in 10 rebounds to go with his team-high 25 points (including 4-for-5 shooting on threes). Nene is unlikely but Porter is probable to return for tonight’s game.
Especially without Nene, whoever the Wizards deploy at power forward is going to have a tough time chasing Paul Millsap around. Whether it’s Drew Gooden or Humphries, Millsap (and Mike Scott) will want to put the ball on the floor from the perimeter and create havoc inside, watching out of course for Wall’s active hands. Pierce and Porter will be spread out defensively between helping with the Hawks' driving forwards and defending the wings (Korver and/or DeMarre Carroll) around the 3-point line.
Paul’s struggled offensively on the road (15.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 42.0 FG%, 30.8 3FG% in away games) so far, and this is an ideal game to get him going away from the Highlight Factory. The Wizards will start hacking if they can’t get stops any other way, so it’s crucial for Millsap (career-low 64.3 FT%) to focus at the charity stripe.
Neither of Gortat or Kevin Seraphin is coming out to defend Al Horford around the perimeter, and not only can Horford find himself open from long range (54.5 FG% from 16 feet out) but he can boost his passing stats (2.5 APG, 1.2 TO/game) by taking advantage of teammates cutting to the basket.
Will Jeff Teague (1.4 SPG, up from 1.1 SPG last season) be a spectator, or an agitator? Coming off a season-high 28 points versus Brandon Jennings and the Pistons, Teague (career-high 16.9 PPG and 5.5 FT attempts/game) and the Hawks point guards need to be more aggressive in creating turnovers and transition opportunities. Like Millsap, Teague will also need to get it going offensively on the road, where he’s averaged just 11.0 PPG while shooting 38.2 FG%.
Backcourt defense will of course be crucial for Atlanta, but particularly in quelling fastbreak opportunities by Wall and Beal, both ranking in the NBA top-ten for the percentage of their scoring from fastbreaks. The Hawks have given up just 9.1 fastbreak PPG, second-lowest in the league.
Each of the East’s current Top-11 seeds have at least two road victories under their belt – everyone, that is, except the Hawks (1-4), who follow up this road game with a four-game homestand over Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, each of the East’s Top-4 seeds have winning records. A big road victory over the Wizards would go a long way toward proving Atlanta belongs in the East’s Top-5… and not among the Bottom-11.
Let’s Go Hawks!