After a wholly weird and roller-coastery game in Washington last night ended with the Nets victorious, the Nets take no time off. They’ll face the Atlanta Hawks at 7 P.M. in the Prudential Center. The Hawks are one of two teams whose season begins tonight. This is the Nets’ 35th and final home opener in New Jersey.
Joining Chris Hooker & myself to talk Hawks is HawkTalker Bret LaGree, the founder, owner, operator, writer, and hipster of Atlanta Hawks blog Hoopinion. Our thoughts, including the game’s X-factors and our predictions for victory, after the jump.
1. Can the Nets hang with Josh Smith and Al Horford?
- Chris Hooker: Well, it will certainly be harder than Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. Much of this will depend on Kris Humphries’ defense. Hump (as well as Damion James) had an above average defensive performance and grabbed a ton of boards. The Nets need to control the glass and make buckets in the paint early on — they simply can’t let Smith or Horford grab offensive boards out of the gate. Coming back against the Hawks is much harder than coming back against the Wizards.
- Devin Kharpertian: Probably not. Horford is one of the premier big men in the game, combining serious game with understated panache. Okur might have a minor shot at checking him, but he’ll make mincemeat of Johan Petro. As for Josh Smith, he’s a lot like JaVale McGee in the sense that he’s a guy who can beat himself, but as far as on-the-court impact goes, Smith is one of the best power forwards in the league. Humphries has a tough night ahead.
- Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: No. The Nets frontcourt will challenge the Hawks on the glass (Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson will have to pitch in on that front) but Smith and Horford will defend the paint well and get, I predict, a surprisingly high volume of touches in the post.
2. X Factor: Who can swing this game?
- Chris Hooker: Kris Humphries. If the Nets expect to pull out a win over a good Atlanta Hawks team, they need another 20-10 (at least) from this guy. When Humphries is hot on the glass and in the paint, he can be difficult to go up against. I expect him to have another aggressive game to keep the Nets in play. The Hawks have some excellent rebounders and the Nets need to dominate like they did last night.
- Devin Kharpertian: Whoever the Nets put on Joe Johnson. They can’t run two-point guard sets with JJ out there — neither D-Will, Farmar, nor Gaines has the size to stay with him. That flexibility might force Avery to throw a big backcourt of D-Will, Extra E-Will, and James at the small forward position, with even James perhaps guarding Johnson. The Hawks have the obvious edge inside; the Nets’ best hope is to take advantage in the backcourt.
- Bret LaGree: Jeff Teague. Teague has played more than 28 minutes in exactly three regular season NBA games over the past two years and one of those was the meaningless 82nd game of his rookie season. The Hawks haven’t had a young, aggressive lead guard since Jason Terry. Tonight could be the dawn of a pleasant new era.
3. Chances the Nets go 2-0?
- Chris Hooker: 55%. I think the Net are coming off some great momentum off last night’s comeback win. While they may be a little sore, I think Deron, Hump and James will be fired up and have good games. I also don’t think Morrow has three bad quarters again and will be draining shots early. AND if DeShawn Stevenson sees the floor, I expect him to at the very least make life a little more difficult for Joe Johnson. A lot of what it’s for the Nets, but we should probably get used to that for the time being.
- Devin Kharpertian: 25%. The Nets are playing a team that’s been a playoff team for four consecutive seasons, with zero season wear & tear, and one of the most formidable frontcourts in the NBA, in the second game of a back-to-back. I’m not hopeful, but if the Hawks are rusty, the Nets clamp down defensively, and Anthony Morrow hits some shots in the first three quarters, they’ve got a shot.
- Bret LaGree: 38%. The Nets are at home, but on the back-end of a back-to-back. The Hawks are rested and must know that this is exactly the type of game they have to win to defy predictions that they’ll miss the playoffs.