For the third straight game, the Toronto Raptors face a team fighting for its playoff life. There is one big difference, however; unlike Memphis and Phoenix, the Atlanta Hawks are in the sad-sack Eastern Conference. Atlanta, with 4 consecutive wins over sub-.500 opponents, has stabilized its hold on the #8 seed. Prior to that, they had been in a 1-14 nosedive, which out West would have seen them drop from sight. Paul Millsap has returned from injury, but Al Horford is definitely gone for the season, and Gustavo Ayon and John Jenkins probably are. Whether the Hawks’ second unit players can step up to the challenge of a playoff run remains to be seen.
Pero Antic, a muscular Macedonian, is the only healthy centre, so he starts. His rebounding numbers, albeit from a small sample, aren’t impressive. When I’ve seen him play, he’s struck me as someone who’s not crazy about mixing it up under the boards. Jonas Valanciunas will likely have much more trouble with Millsap, who was the NCAA rebounding champion, but is a complete player as a pro. Kyle Korver is perhaps the NBA’s best catch-&-shoot man. He leads the league in 3-point shooting percentage, and must be marked at all times. DeMarre Carroll is Kenneth Faried-Lite. He will likely draw the assignment of covering DeMar DeRozan. While he’s a respectable defender, he’s not in the P.J. Tucker class. Jeff Teague can scoot and score from his point guard position. He’s their assist leader, by far.
Atlanta’s rotation includes veteran forward Elton Brand, still capable of getting buckets in bunches, and unheralded but useful “tweener” Mike Scott. Louis Williams can score using his speed and smarts as the backup point guard.
The Hawks are back in form, and won’t be easy to overcome in their building. However, the Raps are deeper, and will win this game if they:
- contest every shot. The Hawks aren’t lights-out shooters, save Korver.
- own the boards. Even Millsap’s smarts and effort won’t be enough to overcome Toronto’s inherent advantages of size and positioning. Amir Johnson and JV should grab 20+ rebounds between them.
- get some points from our rotation. Yes, it would be nice to have Patrick Patterson coming off the bench, but it’s not happening this game. The Raps still have enough to go plus against Atlanta’s backups, unlike that unsightly Phoenix game.
If Terrence Ross can bounce off the picks set for Korver, and keep him within arm’s length, their offense will crater. Toronto wins 101-92.
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