This is the Hawks.
That was the Hawks.
The Hawks knocked off the Blazers in Portland (!) last night to go to a record of 3-1. Atlanta's offense has been good so far, with Jamal Crawford augmenting the Hawks attack positively. (A minor victory.) Crawford was brilliant in PDX, scoring 27 points on 16 FGAs, with seven assists and no turnovers. That might actually be a positive for the Kings, as Crawford is not exactly known for his game-to-game consistency. (Ask Warriors fans.)
The Hawks defense is what got them to above average, though, with Al Horford and Josh Smith manning the paint and Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson providing plus defense on the perimeter. Mike Bibby is still a turnstile, from what I can gather, but shoots like no one's business and will require defensive effort from Tyreke Evans and Beno Udrih.
Check out Peachtree Hoops for insight on the Hawks and for a killer blackberry cobbler recipe.
THE KEY BATTLE
Kevin Martin vs. Joe Johnson. There are actually a number of intriguing battles up and down the rosters, but two of the league's greatest scorers could really light ARCO on fire. J.J. is actually a similar player to O.J. Mayo, though more physical and polished while less athletic. Given Atlanta's superior help defense in comparison with the Grizzlies, Martin may need to be more careful going to the rim -- Smith and Horford are all business from the weak side, and Zaza Pachulia became an effective shotblocker last season. At the other end, Martin would do well to play Johnson as he did Mayo: crowd him at the arc, and prevent him from getting straight-ahead lines to the rim. With Spencer Hawes back in the starting five, Martin has better help at the rim behind him, and he can afford to play too tight to prevent Johnson from getting on a hot streak from long-range.
Johnson also happens to be a killer defensive rebounder. If Martin can sneak in to steal a few of those, the Kings should be able to capitalize. It can't come at the expense of decent transition defense, though. While Atlanta will never be considered a fast team, Smith can fly and the Atlanta backcourt is smart.
THE INTERESTING SIDESHOW
It will be interesting to read the body language of Omri Casspi, Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni if the Kings don't hang with what is a clearly better team. All three of those fellows let their aggravation (and excitement) show, and an ineffective effort after a darling win might bring out the worst. I find it especially nerve-wracking with Hawes, who needs to play well to keep the larger population of Kings fans in his corner. And he has a real challenge with Horford, who is smaller and less versatile but clearly tougher and unlikely to be shredded in the post. This is a big game for Hawes. The spotlight's on him now, and the danger of disappointment is so, so clear.
The same goes for Kings fans. The gym will be noticeably more sparse, and the opponent is much tougher. Bad recipe for continued momentum for the crowd.
Tyreke Evans won't be the one to shut up all this "Start Beno?" nonsense. Beno will.
'08-09. Never forget.
The game will be another 7PM start in the River City. CSN and KHTK have it, as always. Game thread will magically open at 7PM. Post-game thread will magically open at 10PM. Recap will magically be posted by noon Thursday.