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Game On: Hawks @ Hornets
Christmas Day is over and presumably Phil Jackson has no problems with the NBA scheduling games on December 26th, so the Hornets take the court for the first time in four days with no protest from the Zen Master or any other outspoken multi-millionaires who don’t seem to realize where their bread is buttered.
The Hornets are coming off perhaps their best offensive performance of the season, winning 105-91 against the Nets on Wednesday behind spectacular showings from Okafor and Thornton and efficient performances by Paul, West, and Belinelli. Even though the game was against the Nets, a team that has struggled mightily on the road, it was still a performance that gave fans hope going into the Christmas break, and hopefully the Hornets can pick up right where they left off.
Point Guard: Chris Paul vs. Mike Bibby
Bibby is on his last legs as a starting NBA point guard, but he actually has been very efficient this season as Larry Drew has essentially turned him into a spot up shooter. He basically is the Derek Fisher of the Atlanta Hawks at this stage of his career. He isn’t really asked to create and he only takes about 9 shots per game, but he is often the one taking the big 3’s down the stretch. He is shooting nearly 48% from the field, which is well above his career average, and is shooting 50% from deep- knocking down 2 per game. With all that being said, CP3 obviously dominates this matchup, but he has to be careful not to leave Bibby too often in order to go for steals or Bibby can easily go off for 20+.
Shooting Guard: Marco Belinelli vs. Joe Johnson
Johnson has played 4 games since coming back from surgery and the results have been mixed, at best. He looked good against Cleveland, although a friend of mine who was at the game told me that he was 80 percent at best and couldn’t really get to the rack. His injuries haven’t really stopped him from being aggressive, however, as he is averaging more than 16 shots per game since returning, averaging 17.5 PPG. it seems like he still doesn’t have his lift, and that is affecting his deep ball, but perhaps the 3 days off has helped.
Marco looked great against New Jersey on Monday, but this is the kind of matchup that he will struggle with. Atlanta is fairly long and Marco will have a tough time getting to the basket or creating. He might get some open looks from deep, especially in transition, but I can’t see him doing much else offensively. He needs to focus his energy on the defensive end, where he will be asked to guard scorers like Johnson and Jamal Crawford.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Marvin Williams
Every time these two meet, somebody just has to mention that Williams was taken over CP3 in the draft, but I refuse to do it- it is just too easy. But Williams was taken over 2 elite point guards that year who could have changed the Atlanta franchise forever. One of them was Deron Williams, the other…. Promised I wouldn’t go there.
Anyway, Marvin has been solid for Atlanta this year, averaging nearly 11 PPG on 48% shooting while playing solid defense. The great thing about Atlanta’s front line is that they can switch on pick and rolls and never really be at a disadvantage. Williams, Smith, and Horford can all cover 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, and even most 5’s. In fact any of those guys can even stay in front of most point guards.
As for Ariza, hopefully somebody got him some confidence over the break because he has just been awful as of late. In his last 3 games he is 6-35 from the field and over his last 5 games he is 0-15 from deep and has a 1.4:3 assist to turnover ratio. If not for his solid rebounding and above average defense, I might be well within my rights to label him the worst starting small forward in the league during the month of December- a month that has seen him shoot 32% from the field, 13% from deep, and average over 2 turnovers per game.
It is time for him to step up or move to the bench. Plain and simple. Hopefully he rises like a Phoenix starting tonight.
Power Forward: David West vs. Josh Smith
By far the best matchup on the court tonight, and one that could go a long ways into deciding the outcome of the game. West really struggles against Smith when he tries to overpower him around the rim. I have no way of looking this up, but I would bet a nice piece of change that Smith blocks more shots per game against D West than anyone else West has matchup up with.
Where West can take advantage of Smith is out on the perimeter. Smith loves to help out on the weak-side and this can leave West open for a lot of open jumpers. If West can knock down those shots early, it will force Smith out and could open up the lane for the Hornets considerably.
Center: Emeka Okafor vs Al Horford
Advantage: Hawks (slightly)
Maybe I am factoring Emeka’s last two games into this too much, but I really like the way he has been playing and I think he and Horford are mirror images of each other in a lot of ways. Horford possesses a better stroke from the line and can actually pass the ball out of the high post, but everything else is fairly similar. Neither really have an elite low post move and both rely mostly on pure hustle around the rim, while they both do a fairly good job of protecting the paint while being undersized.
The key for Okafor in this game will be not to pick up ticky tack fouls, because the Hornets need him on the court to match up with Horford, seeing that they don’t have anybody else who can limit him on the glass.
Bench: Jeff Teague, Zaza Pachulia, Maurice Evans, Jamal Crawford vs. Marcus Thornton, Jarrett Jack, Willie Green, Jason Smith, DJ Mbenga
This can swing either way depending on a few factors. For one, it is uncertain if Atlanta’s best bench player Jamal Crawford will play tonight. If he does, Atlanta has a slight advantage off the bench. it is also not known whether or not Willie Green will play tonight or if Monty will finally stick with Thornton no matter what.
Depending on those factors, this could go either way, but something tells me that Jack and/or MT5 go off tonight. Good match-ups for both of them.
– If Willie Green comes in tonight- let’s all give him a standing ovation to let him know he has our support. Horrible thing to happen, over the holidays no less.
– Vegas has Hornets as 2.5 point favorites and the over/under at 184. I really like the way the offense looked at home on Wednesday, so I am taking the over. Hornets 102 (free chicken!!) Hawks 96.
– This is the beginning of an 11 day, 7 game road stretch for Atlanta. I kinda wish we caught them at the end of it, but such is life.
– Okafor limited Hibbert and Lopez to a combined 7 for 26 over the last two games. Horford isn’t as stiff as those two, but I expect Emeka to have an impact if he stays out of foul trouble.
Joe’s additional preview (because Michael and I both wrote a preview at the same time). Thanks, Michael! Had I know I would have continued lounging on the beach in SoCal/playing superuncle to my two nephews who may or may not be onamphetamines.
Off Efficiency: Hawks 104.7 (12th), Hornets 102.4 (18th)
Def Efficiency: Hawks 102.5 (12th), Hornets 99.0 (4th)
Pace: Hornets 92.3 (26th), Hornets 92.2 (27th)
New Orleans begins a double headers against Atlanta that starts on the floor of New Orleans Arena and ends on the turf of the Georgia Dome. After a very merry Christmas/Kwanza/Solstice/Whatever else you feel like celebrating, I wouldn’t expect much love in the stands for this battle, mostly as a result of the upcoming Monday Night Football game. The Hawks and Hornets started a combined 14-0, and since have gone a meager 22-24. In actuality their skill level lies somewhere in between those two records, and tonight should be a good test to see where each team is.
Two two teams share another similar trait, being two of the slowest paced teams in the league. It should be a low scoring game, although not necessarily because of poor execution.
As far as rebounding goes, New Orleans has recently been dominating the boards, leading to their percentage of rebounds grabbed jumping all the way up to 51.2 percent (8th in the league). If you had told me that the Hornets would be top 20 in the league before Monty Williams started emphasizing team rebounding, I would have laughed at you. Now though? I just smile. The Hawks aren’t slouches, at 49.7 percent, but somehow, some way, it appears that the Hornets have an advantage.
Atlanta is led by the highest paid player of the highly regarded 2010 free agent class, Joe Johnson. Although clearly not the best of the bunch, hisÂ desire to take the highest possible contractÂ hometown loyaltyÂ enabled him to score a contract regarded by some (me) as one of the dumbest moves of the summer. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good player, but it’s unlikely he can be the best player on a championship team. Atlanta really hamstrung themselves with that contract and although they will be a playoff team for years to come, they lack the financial flexibility to make any major improvements.
Jamal Crawford is questionable, after sitting out the previous six games. I would expect him to play, but I’m not in New Orleans so I really don’t know much more than you do. What’s the deal with guys coming back from injuries against us? If your team has a hurt player, just come to New Orleans and you can rest assured that he will be A-OK.
Anyway, enjoy the game and your Sunday. Maybe Ryan will come in and write a third preview if you all are lucky.