Game 5 Preview: Hawks (3-1) at Kings (1-3)
Both of these teams are coming off of encouraging wins with the Kings getting their first of the year in an exciting and energetic home win on Monday and the Hawks getting a nice victory in Portland last night. Tonight brings about another return to Arco Arena for Mike Bibby and the Hawks who have won four of their last six games against the Kings.
The Hawks are attempting to become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this year after falling into the fourth seed last year with a nice 47-win season. Games like this are important for them because to prove they’re one of the best teams in their conference they have to dominate games like this one against the Kings. They need to win games like this on the road to show they belong with the elite. The Kings on the other hand have to prove to not be a pushover by holding serve on their home court.
And with that…on to tonight’s game!
Opponent: Atlanta Hawks
Tip-off Time: 7:00PM PST
Where To Watch: Comcast Sports Net
Record Last Year (Road Record): 47-35 (16-25)
Record Against Last Season: 0-2, 0-1 at Arco Arena
Kings Out With Injury: Francisco Garcia (Wrist)
Hawks Out With Injury: Jason Collins (Talent)
What the Hawks Do
Offense: Efficiency 108.1 (8th), True Shooting 55.8% (10th), Off. Reb. Rate 26.35 (14th), Turnover Rate 12.76 (6th)
Defense: Efficiency 103.4 (15th), True Shooting 56.1% (23rd), Off. Reb. Rate 22.01 (3rd), Turnover Rate 15.39 (11th)
What the Kings Do
Offense: Efficiency 101.4 (17th), True Shooting 51.1% (24th), Off. Reb. Rate 28.88 (7th), Turnover Rate 12.65 (5th)
Defense: Efficiency 111.1 (27th), True Shooting 58.3% (26th), Off. Reb. Rate 28.85 (24th), Turnover Rate 14.64 (13th)
Bret LaGree from Hoopinion is one of the finest bloggers out there, especially when it comes to Atlanta Hawks coverage. I’ve asked him for his knowledge of the matchups for tonight’s game. Here’s how we think everything shakes out:
Point Guard: Tyreke Evans vs. Mike Bibby
Hoopinion says: Kings fans should consider whether or not Mike Bibby spends significant time guarding Tyreke Evans a decent barometer of one team’s opinion of the potential danger the rookie can cause offensively. My guess is that Bibby guards Desmond Mason whenever possible while Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams deal with Evans and Kevin Martin. Bibby has a sound understanding of his limitations at this point in his career and remains useful by gambling for steals at (mostly) opportune moments and finding sufficient space to get off open jumpers.
Cowbell Kingdom says: Tyreke Evans was clearly hobbled in the game against Mike Conley and was very ineffective in the first half. In the second half, he played much better. He was able to set up his teammates for a couple of buckets and his defense was still pretty good. However, he couldn’t get a quick enough step to make things happen with his own scoring and finished 0/4 from the field. ‘Reke practiced at full speed on Tuesday and seems to be good to go for tonight’s game. If Mike Woodson is dumb enough to start Bibby out on Evans (and I wouldn’t put it past him), then Tyreke will NEVER have a better chance at dominating the first quarter of the game. If not, Kings will need Beno to keep playing as well as he did against Memphis.
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin vs. Joe Johnson
Hoopinion says: One hopes that Johnson and Martin spend as much time as possible guarding each other. The head-to-head battle between Johnson and Kobe Bryant Sunday night ended early as cross-matching became the norm. I like good team basketball as much as the next guy, but there’s nothing wrong with a couple of alpha dogs challenging each other and hogging the spotlight for awhile.
Cowbell Kingdom says: It’s impossible for Kevin Martin to play better than he did against Memphis. He made plays for himself and his teammates. He defended O.J. Mayo extremely well aside from some late layups. And he shot the lights out. He’s also now you’re high-scorer for the NBA this season with is 48-point performance. But going against Joe Johnson will be extremely different than going against Mayo. Joe Johnson is one of the best offensive weapons in the league and I don’t think you’ll be able to put a potentially hobbled Evans on him defensively. Martin is going to have to give more effort on defense than he did on offense. Luckily for the Kings, his scoring was so effortless Monday night, that might not hinder anything for him.
Small Forward: Andres Nocioni vs. Marvin Williams
Hoopinion says: If that Joe Johnson/Kevin Martin shootout doesn’t come to pass, I’d like to the Hawks run more than just the one play for Marvin Williams he got Sunday night in Los Angeles. The team doesn’t seem to have settled on Williams’s place in the offensive pecking order. He’s behind Johnson, of course, but it seems a waste to keep him behind Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford, and Bibby as well. No Hawk is better at getting to the free throw line so using Williams simply as a spot-up shooter limits the offense’s variety.
Cowbell Kingdom says: After his spectacular performance in the win on Monday, Noc will finally get a start. Desmond Mason was a nice idea but this team needs to be able to come out and score early. Nocioni’s presence off the bench has been spectacular so far but the Kings need their best lineup on the floor to start the games. Against Marvin Williams, he’ll have a pretty similar body type and style of game. Nocioni’s ability to play tough physical defense against Marvin will be huge and if he can hit the boards on both ends, the Kings will win this matchup.
Power Forward: Jason Thompson vs. Josh Smith
Hoopinion says: Offensively, Josh Smith is best served attacking the basket. Defensively, Smith is a far better help defender than a primary defender. Thus, it’s best for Jason Thompson to stay as far away from Smith as reasonably possible when the Hawks have the ball and for Thompson to make Smith guard him in the low post as often as possible when the Kings have the ball.
Cowbell Kingdom says: This will be one of the toughest matchups that JT faces all season. Smith will keep JT around the perimeter and is far too quick for Thompson to play up on him. If Smith is knocking down his outside shot then the Kings will have to live with that. Otherwise, Smith will fly towards the basket and get the Kings’ big men into foul trouble. Offensively, I agree with Bret and think Thompson needs to punish Smith inside. If he can get him into foul trouble then he’ll take away the aggressive shot blocking. But he’ll have to play very strongly and physically to knock Smith back when he makes moves in the post. Otherwise, the shot will come back into his face.
Center: Spencer Hawes vs. Al Horford
Hoopinion says: After a steady diet of bigger, stronger centers (Haywood, Bynum, Oden/Pryzbilla) so far this season Al Horford must be looking forward to facing Sean May and Spencer Hawes. Horford always gives a solid effort defensively (especially when defending the pick-and-roll) and on the glass but he only serves as a true difference-maker when he’s involved offensively. Too often against bigger, stronger defenders, he turns into a face-up jump shooter who gets few easy baskets at the rim. Neither May nor Hawes figures to be a significant deterrent to Horford in that manner.
Cowbell Kingdom says: After the last two games, Spencer finally earned the starting center spot and if he continues to play with the same aggressiveness and energy then he’ll be there for the rest of the year/career. Against Horford, his rebounding effort will be the most important thing he does tonight. He has to keep Horford off the glass, especially on the offensive end of the floor. They don’t run a ton of plays for Horford in the post so his weak side shot-blocking will really help against guys like Johnson and Crawford.
Hoopinion says: Mike Woodson is still figuring out how best to use Jamal Crawford while also finding minutes for rookie PG Jeff Teague. The Bibby/Crawford and Teague/Crawford backcourt combinations figure to be defensive liabilities but forgoing them defeats the purpose of acquiring Jamal Crawford so as to provide Joe Johnson more rest. Maurice Evans is a solid backup to Marvin Williams. Early in the season, Joe Smith has surprisingly followed Evans’s lead and camped out in the corner waiting teammates to find him for open three-point shots. Zaza Pachulia has failed to provide his usual rebounding presence in these early days of the season but has not lost the ability to commit a hard foul when the opportunity arises.
Cowbell Kingdom says: With no more Nocioni and Hawes off the bench, the second unit is a lot less skilled and a lot more niche. Desmond Mason’s minutes will be much easier against the second unit but if any of the wing players get into foul trouble, he could be very valuable against Joe Johnson. Sean May will probably be better served in this reserve role because he’ll be going against the Hawks backup frontline, which isn’t exactly the ’86 Celtics’ big men. For Beno, it’s hard to imagine he’ll play as well as he did on Monday but if he does, he should be able to give Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague plenty of problems with his decision-making.
Hoopinion says: I fully expect the Hawks to take advantage of Sacramento’s below-average team defense but have less confidence in Atlanta’s ability to paper over their own defensive liabilities (mostly on the perimeter) on the back-end of back-to-back road games. A mediocre defensive effort before each Sacramento shot goes up could put undue pressure on Atlanta’s defensive rebounding, long a weakness of this franchise. Despite my native pessimism, I’ll still predict a Hawks win. They’re the better team after all, but circumstances appear to make the possibility of an upset greater than might be typical in a meeting of these two teams.
Cowbell Kingdom says: The Kings are riding high off of their momentum from Monday and there is a ton of energy going through the team because of it. They’re also facing off against a team that played a physical Portland team last night. The Kings took advantage of the Grizzlies in overtime a day after they were run all over the court in Denver. But the Hawks are a much better team than the Grizzlies and they’ll be ready to play for a full game tonight. If the Kings don’t get out to a hot start or if Tyreke Evans can’t show what he showed against the Hornets then Sacramento will lose this game.
I’ll be at the game tonight so be sure to check the Daily Dime chat on ESPN.com or follow me at @Cowbell_Kingdom on Twitter.