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Game 18 Preview: Hawks vs. Blazers

A Look at the Magic Hawks

In many ways the story of the Hawks on the young season parallels the story of the Trailblazers:  young team coming off a horrible season, nobody has any expectations, off to a better-than-expected start thanks to the play of a single, shining star but still below .500 and reality is starting to set in, having lost 6 of the last 8.  Heck, that IS the Trailblazers.

In the case of the Hawks the shining star running the show is Joe "I Ain't No Point Guard" Johnson.  Returned to his natural shooting guard position after some disastrous experimenting at the point last year, Johnson is averaging 28 points a game on 50% shooting from the field (amazing for a guard) and 40% from the three-point arc (amazing for anyone).  As with so many other offensive-minded players, when his points are up his other stats follow.  He's averaging 5 rebounds and 4 assists as well.  He's logging a hefty 41 minutes per game, so we'll see how long this keeps up.  (And, by the way, this should be somewhat of a caution to Blazer fans who are banking on Zach having returned fully and to greater glory than ever before.  There are a few other teams out there with single players averaging enormous numbers after one month, Atlanta among them.  Odds are most of those gaudy averages will slide before the season gets too far along.)

"So Dave," you say, "Tell me who ELSE Atlanta has to be bearers of such a fine 6-8 record."  That's a very good question.  Their second leading scorer is...Tyronn Lue.  Yes, THAT Tyronn Lue.  He's averaging almost 31 minutes a game and you know that ain't good.  He's hitting his shots better than ever before, but he still carries all the same liabilities that made five other teams give up on him: he's short and couldn't defend a handcuffed marshmallow if you gave him a tazer.  Zaza Pachulia is a European-type center with a nice scoring touch and he's managing to grab a fair number of rebounds this year, especially on the offensive end.  But he couldn't guard a napping slug if you gave him a salt shaker.  Bench guard Salim Stoudamire is a deadeye shooter from long range and the free throw line but he can't hit anything in between.  He couldn't guard a bolted-down gas can if you gave him a flamethrower. Point man Speedy Claxton lives up to his nickname but he's been in and out all season, is producing nearly as many turnovers as assists and can't hit the broad side of a barn with his jumper.  He couldn't guard your grandmother's Christmas Cactus if you gave him a weed whacker.  Are you starting to sense a pattern yet?

That just leaves the Atlanta forwards, and this is really where they make hay.  They have four of them, all young, athletic, and multi-talented.  Last year's lead draft pick Marvin Williams has been out half the year with a broken finger and remains so.  6'9" 3rd-year man Josh Smith is averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds a game but is questionable because of an eye problem.  6'8" Josh Childress has been averaging 13 points and 6.5 rebounds on 57% shooting but he's out with a broken foot.  That leaves Duke rookie Shelden Williams who is a decent rebounder and can actually defend a little.  He'll be called upon to play more minutes than he's used to tonight.  Everyone else on the roster, including much heralded summer-signee Lorenzen Wright, has been inconsequential so far.

The Hawks will have trouble putting the ball in the basket with all the injuries.  (And they weren't that great at it most nights even when healthy.)  They have been holding opponents to a surprisingly low field goal percentage, largely because of the play of their hyperactive forwards.  That defense has slipped during their recent losing streak however.  Their guards are pretty good at shooting deep and their big guys like to collect offensive rebounds.  As you might expect with all of those shot-minded guards they tend to go one-on-one in their offense.  If you play sharp and with energy they shouldn't be hard to frustrate.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  Shelden Williams, this is Zach Randolph.  Zach Randolph, this is Shelden Williams.  Now kill him.
  2.  Double team Joe Johnson every time he touches the ball and don't let Pachulia get free short jumpers.  If you can manage that, the Hawks won't score enough to threaten you.  I don't think this is the best night for a zone, rather an active, helping man-to-man.
  3.  You can win the battle of the boards easily as long as you do not let them get on the offensive glass.  Low second-chance points for the Hawks will put the nail in the coffin.
  4.  Drive, drive, and drive.  I don't even think you need to drive and dish.  You can get past their guards easily and collect fouls on their big guys like candy.  This should be one big parade to the foul line for us.
  5.  Our bench unit should really be able to dominate tonight.  Look for us gain or extend leads in the middles of the halves.
  6.  I don't make predictions much, because who really knows?  But I have this weird feeling that this could be a good night for Martell (finally!).  Don't ask me why.  I guess maybe I think the Hawks will have their hands so full with Zach's posting and Zach's penetration that they're going to ease up a little on the kid.  We'll see.  This isn't necessarily important to us winning, but it would be nice.
This is another of those games where both teams' fans will be upset if they lose, as it's marked as a "should win" on both calendars.  Both teams are lost a little and struggling.  Both have been coping with injuries and the Hawks' are just getting worse.  Sometimes shorthanded teams come out with extra fire for a game or two so we can't assume a walkover, but if we play reasonably smart and put out energy for 48 minutes we should see confetti.

As always, send along any eye-witness reports after the game.  I'm working on in-game coverage especially for those games not televised in the local market.  Soon, I hope...

--Dave (