Atlanta Hawks (24-8) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (26-7)
Saturday, January 3
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Hawks: N/A
SBN Affiliate: Peachtree Hoops | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Hawks Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers host the Atlanta Hawks tonight in a matchup of the No. 2 team in the West and the No. 1 team in the East.
Portland's players were able to pick up two days of rest after defeating the Raptors at home Tuesday night, not practicing this week until yesterday. The Hawks, on the other hand, played in Utah last night and notched a win over the Jazz.
Atlanta features one of the most deft offenses in the league, as coach Mike Budenholzer's system emphasizes ball movement and attacks heavily from the three-point line. The Hawks have averaged an uncharacteristic 97.6 points per game the last five, but that stat is a bit skewed due to a 107-77 loss to the Bucks last week that stands out like a sore-thumb on Atlanta's otherwise sterling schedule. On the season, they average over 102 points a night.
The Hawks have a balanced offense that is set in motion by point guard Jeff Teague, who's averaged 17.3 points and 7 assists per game the last five. He gets to the rim for a third of his shots and is a great finisher, also boasting a reliable floater. Teague isn't much of a three-point shooter in general, but he's worse than usual lately, hitting just 21.4 percent of his threes the last five outings. He gets to the line often and usually cashes in on his free throws when he's there. Teague torched the Jazz last night for 26 points on 9-for-17 shooting.
Power forward Paul Millsap, who had a rough night against Utah, has operated mostly in the paint the last five games and has a solid touch around the rim. He'll occasionally step out for threes, but he's been unable to connect on them consistently the last five games even though he's a 34.1 percent three-point shooter on the season. Millsap passes well from the power forward position and can draw foul shots when his attempts aren't falling.
Center Al Horford isn't bad down low, but prefers to take midrange jumpers, where he's been good for 40 percent of his shots the last five games. In that time, over 82 percent of his scores have been assisted, the highest of the Hawks' top-three individual players. Like Millsap, Horford is a solid passer from the frontcourt and doesn't turn the ball over often.
Starting guard Kyle Korver is the NBA's best three-point shooter this year at 52 percent from deep, but that number has dipped to 44.1 percent the last five games. Still, when a guy is shooting 44 percent from outside over a certain stretch and that's considered the low end of his capabilities, he's doing something right, and Korver is most certainly the Hawk's biggest threat from deep. He gets up almost seven three-pointers a game, most of them in catch-and-shoot situations.
Wing DeMarre Carroll has been struggling with his shot lately, over half his 9.8 attempts per game the last five coming from deep where he's been good for just a third of them in that time. Carroll's shooting woes continued last night in Utah, but he's typically a dangerous threat from either corner and is due for a bounce-back game.
Budenholzer typically goes about 10-deep with his rotation. Point guard Dennis Schroder gets to the rim and has hit two-thirds of his shots there the last five games. He's also a capable jumpshooter, particularly from the elbows. Guard Thabo Sefolosha rarely shoots but has hit half his threes the last five games and is capable near the basket.
Forwards Elton Brand and Mike Scott, along with guard Kent Bazemore, round out the rotation Budenholzer employed last night against the Jazz. None of the three shoots particularly often, but Scott and Bazemore were more aggressive than usual at Utah, combining to go 5-of-14 from the field.
Because tonight's game is the second half of a back-to-back for Atlanta, reserve point guard Shelvin Mack, forward Mike Muscala and big man Pero Antic may be pressed into action. Muscala and Mack have struggled from the field recently, while Muscala has only played just over five minutes total the last five games. Typically, though, he's great inside with limited attempts and can hit the midrange jumper with regularity.
Portland's defense is primed to slow down the Hawks' perimeter attack, as the Blazers have allowed opponents to shoot just 28 percent (No. 2 in the NBA) from outside the last five games. Overall, Portland has allowed just 42.1 percent shooting from the field in that time, also good for second in the league. They've been the best team at halting easy ball movement in that span and have allowed just 98 points per game.
The Blazers' offense, meanwhile, is putting up over 105 points per outing the last five. They're average at collecting assists and haven't shot particularly well from inside the arc, but they've gotten up almost 35 three-pointers a game the last couple weeks and have made 42.2 percent of them. Portland's gotten a bit turnover-prone recently, and Atlanta is capable of forcing them in bunches, so the Blazers need to value possessions tonight or they may cough up the ball often against an opportunistic Hawks defense.
Portland got 49 combined points from point guard Damian Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the win over the Raptors Tuesday, though Lillard struggled with his shot all night until the waning minutes of regulation and into overtime. Aldridge has played in just two of the last five games due to an upper respiratory illness, but he's ostensibly recovered now. Lillard has tried over nine threes a game the last five, making 37 percent of them. His jumper has been going in at a solid rate, and he's made about 61 percent of his attempts at the basket the last couple weeks.
Guard Wesley Matthews, the league-leader in three-pointers made so far this season, has attempted over 10 outside shots a game the last five and has nailed a ridiculous 50 percent of them. For the season he's at 40.2 percent from deep, so he's riding a pretty hot streak into a game against an opponent that hasn't defended the three-point line well lately.
Small forward Nicolas Batum went 4-of-11 from the field against Toronto, but he's attempted 7.5 shots per game the last five. The good news for Batum is that he appears to be out of a recent extended shooting slump, making 53.3 percent of his field goals and 47.1 percent of his threes the last five games. He has a small sample size of shots at the rim in that time, but Batum has been a good scorer at the basket when he's tried. His assist numbers aren't where they were earlier in the season, but don't be surprised to see Batum return to his facilitator role tonight, especially if his shots aren't falling.
Big man Joel Freeland has earned his starting position in place of injured center Robin Lopez, but he rarely looks for his own shot and hasn't scored very consistently when he has. Instead, reserve Chris Kaman comes off the bench and provides scoring from the center position. His jumpshot has been slightly off lately, but Kaman can score at the rim and supplies a presence down low offensively that Freeland doesn't.
Portland coach Terry Stotts went with a very short rotation Tuesday night, inserting just nine men. Lillard, Matthews, Batum and Aldridge all played at least 41 minutes as forwards Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver, along with guards Will Barton and Allen Crabbe, all collected DNP-CDs. Reserve guard CJ McCollum saw just five minutes of court time. Point guard Steve Blake has averaged over 23 minutes a game the last five but both his shooting and assist numbers are down in that time. Robinson, Crabbe and forward Dorell Wright -- who's played in five straight games after sitting at the edge of Stotts' rotation for much of the early season -- are all struggling from the floor recently. McCollum has shot well, but that's been in limited attempts. Big man Meyers Leonard missed the Toronto game with a shoulder injury, his status for tonight unknown.
The Hawks' defense allows fairly easy ball movement, but they defend well down low, inside the arc and in transition. Atlanta gives up plenty of three-pointers at a high percentage, so the Blazers should look to continue their hot shooting from the perimeter. Don't be surprised to see both Lillard and Matthews attempt 10+ three-pointers each tonight if recent history is any indication.
Both teams rebound well defensively but haven't been great on the offensive glass lately. Millsap is a good individual rebounder and Carroll is great on the boards from the wing, but Horford is pretty underwhelming for a center. Freeland, Kaman, Robinson and Aldridge lead the charge for Portland in the rebounding department, and only Carroll presents a difficult matchup, as Batum hasn't been nearly as aggressive on the glass recently and will have to step up tonight to keep Carroll at bay.
The Hawks are soaring right now, having won three games in a row and 17 of their last 19. The Blazers carry a four-game winning streak into tonight's matchup with Atlanta, though, and have gone 9-1 over their last 10. Expect to see plenty of three-pointers tonight from both teams. Portland's defense has been great lately, but Atlanta's has been solid as well.
If the Blazers can play the passing lanes with purpose and cut off some of the Hawks' ball movement tonight, Atlanta would be forced to score off the dribble more often, which isn't its strong point. Still, that's easier said than done, and the Hawks can attack from multiple points on the court, led by Teague, Millsap, Horford and Korver, all of whom can carry the scoring load if necessary.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
(Note: This preview was started when Atlanta's game with the Jazz was in progress last night, and therefore all cumulative statistics are from the five games prior).
Sam Tongue's New year's Resolutions for the Blazers: