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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Atlanta Hawks Preview

Can the Blazers kick off 2022 with a win?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (13-22) vs. Atlanta Hawks (16-19)

The Portland Trail Blazers finished 2021 in miserable fashion, losing their last four games and 14 of their last 17. Will things get better in 2022? Anfernee Simons, Robert Covington, Keljin Blevins, Trendon Watford, and coach Chauncy Billups have been cleared to return to the team, so the first steps toward their normal roster have been taken. Nurkic and Zeller should be available soon. (Update: Nurkic is available for the Atlanta game). Unfortunately, Damian Lillard has been listed as out for injury management, and CJ McCollum is still not available.

The problems the Atlanta Hawks have suffered with their roster makes the Blazers’ problems seem nearly insignificant in comparison, at least in terms of health and safety protocols. Thirteen players have been sidelined due to these protocols, and Atlanta has set a record for the largest roster in league history after signing the most 10-day hardship contracts. However, regular players are starting to return, even as their head coach Nate McMillan is newly sidelined. In spite of everything, the Hawks won their last outing 121-118 against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

Monday, January 3 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: ROOT Sports, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out), CJ McCollum (out), Brandon Williams (out), Cameron McGriff (out), Cody Zeller (doubtful)
Hawks injuries: Bogdan Bogdanovic (out), Gorgui Dieng (out), Malik Ellison (out), John Collins (out), Jalen Johnson (out), De’Andre Hunter (out), Solomon Hill (out), Onyeka Okongwu (out), Delon Wright (out), Malcom Hill (out), Cam Reddish (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: Peachtree Hoops

What To Watch For

Trae Young. Trae has been scoring at a great clip all year, averaging 27.5 points per game. The last game he played in where he scored less than 20 points was way back on November 20th. Slowing Trae down hasn’t necessarily meant a victory for opponents however, nor have big games from Trae correlated very well with Hawks victories. The best strategy seems to be to make things reasonably difficult for Trae without overly distorting the defense. If you can keep Trae in the 25 to 30 point range while not letting other Hawks have career days you give yourself a chance.

Lack of turnovers. Atlanta is the best in the NBA at avoiding turnovers at only 12.1 per game. Remarkably, in spite of all of the roster issues, they haven’t strayed far from their season average lately with the majority of their opening day roster on the sidelines. With the low likelihood of the Hawks just fumbling the game to the Blazers, Portland will need to be sure to take care of business on the defensive boards to stay in the game.

Juggling lineups. It’s likely that the Hawks will have a bunch of their regular players available for the first time in a while. While certainly welcome news for Atlanta, this causes a particular problem for Joe Prunty, the assistant who will be making the decisions with Nate McMillan and top assistant Chris Jent unavailable. Figuring out lineup combinations and deciding who should get playing time won’t be easy with so many players on the roster who haven’t played much if at all with each other. It’s up to the Blazers to take advantage in those moments when things are inevitably not clicking for the Hawks.

What Others Are Saying

COVID-19 has devastated the Hawks, but Trae Young isn’t worried, reports Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Young does speak from experience - not of playing with a roster that currently has only three players who were on the opening-day roster but with a team digging itself out of an early hole. You’ll remember the Hawks started last season with a 14-20 record, fired coach Lloyd Pierce and then went on a run all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, where they pushed the eventual NBA champion Bucks to six games.

Atlanta is set for some of their COVID-19 absentees to return against the Blazers, with more likely to return shortly thereafter. Matthew Hallett of Soaring Down South has the benefits the Hawks will get when players return.

The first benefit that the Hawks will have is depth. Over the period where the Hawks were down to a threadbare roster, there were a number of games where the starters played over 40 minutes per contest. This adds a level of fatigue and heightens the risk of injury, not to mention that it is hard to battle deep into the last period where their legs are not fresh.

What could be better than a WWE Atlanta Hawks championship belt? Rhetorical question. Fox 5 Atlanta has the details on an unusual partnership.