The Hawks have lost three of four, with the only win coming in overtime against the lowly Wizards. In each of the losses, the Hawks have trailed by 17 or more, and have shot under 40%.
Needless to say, they could use a win against a good team at home.
The Hawks overall record is still good at 15-9, but tonight’s matchup presents a chance that they could fall out of the three-seed that they’ve held for about a month now. Chicago is 15-10, coming off of an impressive wins against New York and Boston. The Bulls are 7-2 in their last nine games, and have certainly been more impressive recently than Atlanta.
Calling this game a must-win is a bit of a stretch; we haven’t even reached the All-Star break yet, the team has a winning percentage over 60%, and the Bulls are still a pretty good team that the Hawks should have no shame in dropping a game to.
However, we need to see a better Hawks team in this game. They don’t have to win, but they need to look like the team that stormed out to a 14-6 start and was tied for 2nd in the East. That involves shooting a better percentage, turning the ball over less, and looking like they want to win the game.
The big key to this is Al Horford. He usually plays well against Chicago, and former teammate Joakim Noah, but he has struggled in Atlanta’s last three games. He’s shot 9-35 in those games, and is averaging only eight points and eight rebounds. Not exactly the all-star numbers that we’ve come to expect from Al. Most importantly, his jumper has been terrible so far this season, and more teams are starting to just let him have it. If he’s not hitting, that’s going to kill the spacing the Hawks have on offense.
Devin Harris is likely going to be out again, so the Hawks are going to need a huge effort from Jeff Teague. Jeff has been more aggressive in the last few games, but he cannot allow himself to get into foul trouble, as Lou Williams isn’t not capable of running the point in this Atlanta offense. This is where Devin’s absence is critical, because if he’s out, the Hawks no longer have a reliable drive-and-kick point guard that the offense needs. Sure, Lou is able to get into the lane a lot, but rarely does he look to pass out of it. Teague may need to play 40 minutes in this one for the Hawks to be at their best. (if he’s guarded by Hinrich, he should be able to get into the lane as much as he wants)
If I were the coach, I would start the big lineup tonight, with Zaza taking over the center spot. He will be able to match Noah’s effort and possibly frustrate Joakim a little bit. Also, after the way the Hawks have played previously, they could use a little more energy in the starting lineup. This also matches Horford up against Boozer, which should be something that Al can exploit. Josh on Deng is a little more interesting, but Josh might be able to get something going in the post, should he decide to play there.
I’m going to be honest: I don’t think the Hawks are going to win this game. In fact, I don’t think it is even that important to win. However, they need to play like they can win, and shouldn’t be down 20+ points in this one. If they do find themselves there, though, we might have a bigger problem on our hands.