Portland Trail Blazers (47-27) at Atlanta Hawks (27-48)
Friday, March 29 - 4:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: CJ McCollum (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out)
Hawks injuries: Omari Spellman (out), Miles Plumlee (out), Alex Poythress (out), Taurean Prince (doubtful)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Peachtree Hoops
The Portland Trail Blazers continue their four-game road trip in Atlanta. The Blazers may have lost some of their stars to injuries, but that has yet to translate to losses on the court. They kicked off the road trip by beating the Bulls in Chicago on Wednesday—their first game without center Jusuf Nurkic. The win brings Portland’s winning streak to five games.
The Atlanta Hawks have been officially eliminated from the playoffs, but that hasn’t stopped them from playing better lately. They have won their last three games including victories over the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers.
What to watch for
- Slowing down Trae Young. The Hawks rookie guard has become a dangerous offensive weapon in the second half of the season. Before the All-Star break Young was having a solid, but not necessarily spectacular rookie season, averaging 16.9 points and 7.6 assists per game on 40.6 percent shooting from the field and 31.2 percent from three. In the 17 games since the All-Star break, however, he’s putting up ridiculous numbers for a rookie: 25.8 points and 9 assists while shooting 45.4 from the field and 40.5 from three (on 7.1 attempts). He has also gotten to the line more, upping his free throws per game from 4.4 before All-Star weekend to 7.1 after.
- The Collins matchup. Both Atlanta and Portland picked big men named Collins in the 2017 draft. So far Atlanta’s John Collins has been the better pick. He’s averaging 19.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game for the Hawks. Portland’s Zach Collins has not shown anything close to that level of productivity offensively, but he has become a solid defensive player. With Nurkic out, Zach Collins will need to step up on both ends of the floor. He scored 13 points against on the Bulls on Wednesday (his second double-figure scoring game in a row).
- Defending the three-point line. The Hawks make the fourth most three-pointers in the league (12.9 per game). Everyone in their starting lineup is capable of hitting from deep including big men Dewayne Dedmon (38.1 percent on 3.4 attempts) and John Collins (35.5 percent on 2.5 attempts). Since the All-Star break, they are shooting and hitting even more often. They are putting up 41.7 and hitting 15.7 per game (good for a 37.7 percent rate). Only the Houston Rockets have attempted and made more three-pointers per game than the Hawks have in that time.
What they’re saying
Graham Chapple of Peachtree Hoops took a look at Trae Young’s performance at the end of close games:
There are many things you can say about this year’s Atlanta Hawks team but one of the things you can say with certainty is that they’ve been involved in a lot of close games. The Hawks have featured in 36 games in which the game has been within five or less points with five minutes to go and 16 occasions in which the game has been decided by five points or less.
This has given the Hawks and Young plenty of opportunities to test themselves in close games and while the Hawks are 18-18 in such instances, Young himself has excelled as a clutch performer.
Steve Hummer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that Hawks fans shouldn’t worry their recent wins will hurt their draft spot:
“It’s way more important for our young guys to develop, to continue to have success on the floor so they know that all the work they’re putting in at practice is worthwhile,” [Hawks GM Travis] Schlenk said. “It helps the development so much when they experience success on the floor.”
For their part, fans who might have treated any Hawks victory as a Pyrrhic one can relax. At this moment, this team is pretty much locked in with the NBA’s fifth-worst record. Fourth worst is Chicago, with five fewer wins than the Hawks. Just not enough time to lose enough to move up that rickety ladder.
Frank Urbina of Hoops Hype previewed Atlanta’s upcoming offseason:
Outside of the continued development of their young core, the Hawks need to acquire a legit veteran star, a rim-protector to cover for Collins’ defensive deficiencies and bench depth if they actually want to make noise next season. Thankfully for them, they have the assets necessary to make that happen, both in the form of cap space and trade chips (the Hawks own multiple first-round picks over the next two seasons), so seeing a big name join Young in Atlanta this summer is entirely possible.