Atlanta Hawks Preseason Watch vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Graham Chapple —  October 11, 2016

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

The Hawks picked up their second victory of the preseason with a 99-93 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wait… The Hawks actually beat the Cavaliers?? The 11 game losing streak that has run since the 2015 Conference Finals is over?? What’s that? It doesn’t actually count because no relevant Cavalier played and it’s only a preseason game? Oh…

Anyways, they picked up the win and it was so good to finally be able to watch the Hawks in action after their first two games of the preseason (against the Grizzlies and the Spurs) were not televised.

Let’s just get stuck in, shall we?

Dwight Howard shines in Philips debut

Dwight Howard’s first competitive game at Philips Arena was a decent one, you could say. He scored 26 points (on 11-of-15 shooting), collected eight rebounds, and blocked two shots in just under 24 minutes of action.

He was so dominant in the first quarter and there’s so much to digest, I don’t know where to start. But before we get stuck into the footage, do — please — keep in mind that this is preseason and the opposition Dwight was playing against was not of the highest quality. Important to note, as some tend to get carried away after one game.

Defensively, we always knew what Dwight we were going to see — so long as he was locked in. But we all knew if he was locked in that Dwight was always going to be a force to be reckoned with at the rim. As Jordan McRae found out the hard way…

Right in front of the Cavalier bench too…

Dwight’s other block of the game helped create a fast break opportunity and, so long as the Hawks are able to collect the defensive rebound after the block, there’s going to be lots of opportunities to push and score in transition after a Millsap or Dwight block.

Here, Mike Muscala collects the rebound following the block on McRae by Dwight, and he quickly delivers the ball to his point guard who pushes in transition. Moose runs the floor, the ball is returned to him by Dennis and Moose executes a beautiful little push shot that goes in.

This all starts with Dwight. Obviously, the opportunity for this basket would not have existed without Dwight blocking that shot. You should see a lot of that this season.

But we were expecting this. We knew that Dwight was going to block shots and collect rebounds. I don’t think anyone was worried about that. But it’s on the offensive end where we all wondered how things would look with Dwight in the picture. On the basis of his 26 point performance, things may not be too bad.

In our preseason preview, I wondered what kind of relationship Dwight and Dennis could develop. Well, whatever that relationship may develop into, it hasn’t taken long for a basic understanding to take place.

Their games would also seem to compliment each other well. Schröder’s a slashing point guard, he likes to use his speed to beat his opponent and get to the rim. It’s his greatest strength. When he drives towards the rim he draws the attention of the defense and the shot blocker, who will attempt to meet him at the rim and attempt to block his shot. The big man steps out to meet him and all Dwight has to do is wait for that moment and then wait for his point guard to either throw a lob or dump it off to him underneath the basket. In this case, the lob is tossed and it’s slammed home by Dwight.

This type of play will also give Dennis the option to kick it out to an open shooter. Kent Bazemore is at the bottom of this picture during this play and his man leaves him wide open in an attempt to try and put a body on Dwight after Dwight’s man commits to challenging Dennis near the rim.


This is the kind of havoc Dwight Howard can create. You have to put a body on him underneath the rim at all times, you just have to. And it should open up all sorts of different avenues for the wings.

But Dwight can also give Dennis the opportunity to create for himself. This was the play that genuinely made me excited for his duo: The high pick-and-roll between Dennis and Dwight.

Dennis is so quick. Give him enough space to build up a full head of steam and you’re going to have a hard time finding many defenders who will be able to keep up with him, especially in pick-and-roll situations — very few bigs are going to be able to track back and keep up with Dennis. This high pick-and-roll could cause problems for a lot of teams.

But if Dennis — or anyone else — happens to miss their layups/shots, then Dwight will be on hand to pick up the pieces in a way few can. I know who Dwight is out-rebounding here plays a part in Dwight getting this rebound, but it’s this kind of rebounding tenacity and effort that is going to earn Dwight and the Hawks the offensive rebounds and second chance points they have been missing for years now.

Again, you have to put a body — sometimes two — on Dwight, and that can also create opportunities for opportunistic teammates, such as Mike Muscala who comes steaming in to claim the offensive rebound and second chance points.

While Dwight had a great impact on the offensive end, plays like this will need to be ironed out.

Once Dwight receives the ball no one else touches it and the end result is a poor offensive trip that yielded nothing. But there were other possessions where Dwight had the ball in the post and he found the cutter.

Overall, it was a great home debut for Dwight. I think, most of all, the best thing to see from Dwight last night was that he looked healthy and spry. Did you — as I and many others also did — originally have doubts about Dwight? Do you feel significantly better now having watched him in action? If not, what more do you need to see?

Moose making a case

I raise my hands, I admit it. I said, because the Hawks have to trim their final roster from 16 guaranteed contracts to 15 guaranteed contracts, that Mike Muscala would the one to either be cut or traded in favor of Jarrett Jack. And while Jack is still going to be around this season, Moose may stay yet. He was very impressive last night — scoring 10 points, collecting three rebounds and dishing out five assists — and by many accounts has had a great summer and training camp.

I was really impressed how well he and Dwight seemed to play together on the court. Four of Muscala’s five assists were buckets that Dwight Howard scored. I tried looking on to find out the plus/minus rating any lineup that included Dwight and Moose last night but apparently that’s not a stat being tracked in the preseason, but if it was I think it would be quite high. For the game, the two posted a game high of plus-16.

Let’s look at a couple of those assists.

You’d imagine, given his free throws struggles and that teams are allowed to hack until the 2:00 mark, that Dwight will be taken out midway during the first quarter (like Al Horford was) and inserted back in the last two minutes of the quarter (where he can’t be fouled intentionally without it disadvantaging the other team) and, as a result, could find himself playing with Muscala in the second unit. The two displayed a nice high-low connection last night and it made me wonder if this connection may force the front office to reconsider who they cut. That’s what preseason is for, finding out what works and what doesn’t, and last night that combination of Muscala at the four and Dwight at center worked.

Will this work against proper second units? Who knows, but it certainly worked last night.

Muscala is a clever player and is able to make this kind of pass on a regular basis. Another one of Moose’s assists to Dwight included this selfless pass to Dwight, who completes a beautiful team play plus the foul.

Really nice pass with his weaker left hand. Lovely touch.

Hawks GM Wes Wilcox hopped onto the broadcast with Bob and ‘Nique and he had a lot of very positive things to say about Muscala, adding that he hoped Mike would remain with the Hawks for many years. He’s certainly making a case.

Another rough night for THJ

Tim Hardaway Jr. is not having a good preseason and I am now beginning to worry for him. With the amount of wings behind him in Prince and Bembry, and with the Hawks needing to trim their roster from 20 to 15 (and their number of players with guaranteed contracts from 16 to 15), Hardaway’s shooting slump hasn’t come at a great time. Following his 1-for-13 night in San Antonio, he followed it up with a 1-of-7 shooting night.

I’m rooting for you, THJ.

Graham Chapple