The Toronto Raptors visit the Atlanta Hawks tonight for the first game of the season between these two. The Hawks are enjoying another playoff-bound season, but this team has had multiple appearances in the past decade, with no championship banners to show for it. Atlanta always seems to be one player away from breaking into the NBA’s elite. Their fine guard, Lou Williams, is gone for the season with a blown-out knee, so perhaps they are now two pieces away.
The Hawks are still a formidable squad, led by veterans like top-scorer Josh Smith. A career Hawk in his ninth season, Smith epitomizes consistency. He’s never hurt, pours in 15-18 points and grabs 7-9 boards per game, and leads by example. His only shortcoming is poor shooting from 3-point range.
To fill that gap, the Hawks employ a talented one-trick pony named Kyle Korver. In the Hawks’ past 3 games, Korver has buried 15 of his 24 3-ball tries, so the Raps cannot play off him even for a second. He’s shooting nearly 47% from downtown this season, proving this latest flurry is no fluke.
Al Horford will be another load for the Raps’ front line to carry. Another consistent veteran, Horford is a two-time All-Star centre who can do all the dirty work inside, yet has the finesse to hit mid-range jumpers when the opportunity presents.
Jeff Teague is a speedy penetrating guard, who will outrun Jose Calderon on offense, but whom Jose should be able to shoot over. The duel between these two bears watching. Their other guard is the well-traveled Devin Harris, who had some excellent seasons with New Jersey, but has since faded into oblivion. Pressed into a starting role by Williams’ absence, it will be interesting to see if Devin can recapture some of his past glory.
The Hawks’ bench is thin, with only Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson (who always plays well against the Raps) worthy of attention.
For the Raps, Aaron Gray gets rewarded for his surprisingly fine game against Golden State with another start. Kyle Lowry is still questionable with back spasms.
The Raps need to show up for all four quarters tonight. Let’s hope they do so, and prevail. My prediction is Raps when by a score of 106-103.
Brian Boake is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.