The Hawks need their Wings Clipped

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Published: November 5, 2008

Matchup: Atlanta Hawks(2-0) v New Orleans Hornets(3-0)

Two unbeaten teams clash in New Orleans tonight as the Hawks seek to keep their strong start going.  So far this season, Atlanta has managed to knock off two teams that are supposed to contend in the East this year – Orlando and Philadelphia – by an average of 10.5 points.  A good number of sportswriters are giving credit for these two wins to Joe Johnson, who has averaged 30 points while shooting a high percentage, but the gleam of his scoring numbers is blinding them to the reality of the Hawks:

Their offense is ordinary.  Their defense has been smothering.

In Atlanta’s first two games, they have scored 1.1 points per shot, which can barely be considered average.  However, their opponents have only managed a poor 1.01 points per shot.  Atlanta has also managed to snag 10.5 steals per game en route to forcing 16.5 turnovers while only committing 12.5 turnovers per game themselves.  This allows them to not only score more per shot, but they have also averaged three more shots per contest.  The Hawks have also controlled the boards in both their games, despite facing strong rebounders like Dwight Howard, Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert.

Granted, it’s early in the season, so it’s hard to know if their defense is by design or by the other team having off nights, but this is not a team to take lightly.

Injuries

Hawks: None
Hornets: Sean “Suit Model” Marks (Strained Calf)

Positional Analysis

PG: Mike Bibby v Chris Paul
Advantage: Hornets
I haven’t been a fan of Mike Bibby’s game since Sacramento’s glory days.  He’s become too defenseless and too likely to jack up stupid early shots.  So far this season, he’s firing away at 35% from the field and his assist and turnover numbers(4 apg, 2.5 tpg) are poor for a lead guard.  Now – I expect him to start finding the range one of these games, but even if it’s this one, Chris Paul is going to treat him like a traffic cone.

SG: Joe Johnson v Morris Peterson
Advantage: Hawks
Joe was simply on fire the first two games of the season, firing away at a blistering 58% from the field.  He’s also not settling for three’s, taking less than 1/4th of his shots from that range so far.  He and Al Horford have a nice two man game going, and we’ll see how the Hornets can handle a team turning their favorite tactic against them.  Mo Peterson will have his hands full, until Posey comes in.

SF: Marvin Williams v Peja Stojakovic
Advantage: Hornets
Marvin has had some injuries, and missed the season opener.  He played last Saturday, managing 2 points on 1-7 shooting, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and two blocks.  It appears his defense is working, but he’s still got to knock that rust of his jumpshot.  Peja should be back from his ankle problem and ready to let fly from the perimeter again.  I give Peja the edge.  Oh, yeah:  Remember that one time? In 2005?  When Atlanta drafted Marvin Williams over Chris Paul?  That was AWESOME.

PF: Josh Smith v David West
Advantage: Even
It’s a battle of the two most non-descript names in the league.  Josh Smith is a wrecking ball on defense, averaging 3.5 blocks AND steals so far this season, and in general he does very well covering for defensive lapses on the perimeter.  Athleticism, dunks, crazy defensive plays and flashy passes are all reasons to love Josh Smith’s game.  However, his lack of fundamental basketball skills, flashy turnovers and inefficient scoring are all reasons to hate Josh Smith’s game.  West doesn’t have the explosive physical talents, but he’s much more reliable and less erratic.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Or, in this case, evens it.

C: Al Horford v Tyson Chandler
Advantage: Hornets
I love Horford’s game.  I fully expect by the end of the year that he’ll be a solid 15 and 10 sort of player – possibly more – who gives you great defense and savvy floor play.  In his two games this year, his two man game with Joe Johnson has been very effective and he’s been getting four assists a game off of it with limited turnovers.  He’s a little undersized, and Tyson should be able to take advantage of that, but expect Horford to remain effective as well.

Bench
Advantage: Hornets
The Hawks have a pretty mediocre bench.  Zaza Pachulia is an alright back-up big man.  Flip Murray will give you some points along with a poor shot selection, and Acie Law is starting to figure out how to be an effective back up point guard.  Their best bench player is probably Maurice Evans, who can hit open shots and plays very effective defense.  None of that can match the Hornets bench though.  Posey > Evans, Butler > Murray, Hilven Armly > Zaza, Mike James > Acie Law – if Acie is missing a leg.  And we’ve got Julian Wright too.  Nice.

Should be a very interesting game.  Hornets by 8.

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