The Atlanta Hawks visit the Air Canada Centre for the second game of four against the Toronto Raptors this season. The Hawks defeated the Raps in those long-ago days prior to The Trade. Atlanta had been holding its own since losing monster inside scorer Al Horford for the season with an injury to his pectoral muscle. However, they are on a 4-game losing skid, during which their offense has struggled. Toronto would like nothing more than to go into the All-Star break with a firm grip on the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference, which a win will provide.
Horford’s absence has been a godsend for centre Gustavo Ayon, who’s played for several teams already in his brief NBA career. There’s always room on a roster for a man-mountain, I suppose, but I’ve never seen him do much. Paul Millsap, his frontcourt mate, is deservedly playing in the All-Star Game. He began his pro career as strictly an undersized rebounder, but has added a reliable jump shot, and is now dangerous out to and beyond the 3-point arc. Speaking of jump shot, shooting guard Kyle Korver can do little else, but there are few people on the planet better at it than this guy. He owns an ongoing NBA record – 119 consecutive games with at least one made 3-ball. Small forward DeMarre Carroll has a modest offensive game, and survives on defense and rebounding. The Hawks’ point guard, Jeff Teague, is the topic of a lot of trade conversations heading into the deadline. I’ve always liked him; he’s fast, an excellent distributor, and can shoot or drive.
The Raps are catching the Hawks during a slide, and can sustain Atlanta’s pain. Toronto needs to:
- get the ball inside. Jonas Valanciunas had a disappointing outing against the Pelicans, but should be able to bounce back against the slow-footed Ayon on the low block.
- don’t let Korver breath. I expect Terrence Ross to draw the assignment of keeping Korver within arm’s length. He’ll need to fight through countless screens, as the Hawks have little chance unless Korver can hit his signature shot, so they know how to free him up.
- expect a lot of different looks. Atlanta uses its bench perhaps more than any other team, so we’ll see rookie speedball Dennis Schroder, gunner Louis Williams, veteran forward Elton Brand and so on. We’ve got the rotation to handle their changes of pace, even without Amir Johnson, who’s likely to miss another game as his ankle injury heals.
The Raps are at home and rested, while the Hawks are on the second night of a back to back. Toronto takes a 103-87 victory.