A chance for redemption? After getting torn asunder by the 22-16 Atlanta Hawks 109-95 Wednesday night, in a game that was not nearly as close as the still-gulflike score may indicate, the 23-16 Brooklyn Nets have one more shot to claim respectability against this Hawks squad at 7:30 P.M., in Brooklyn at Barclays Center.
Before drubbing the Nets, the Hawks had lost six of seven, while the Nets had won nine of their last ten. But even though they're back home, it may only be tougher for Brooklyn tonight; Dynamic Hawks power forward Josh Smith, who sat out Wednesday night serving a one-game suspension handed to him by the team, is back in uniform tonight and will assuredly start.
Joining me to talk tonight's Nets-Hawks matchup is Bo Churney, managing editor and Hawksologist at ESPN TrueHoop Atlanta Hawks blog HawksHoop. If you're interested to learn anything about the Hawks that Wednesday night's embarrassing loss didn't teach you, that's the place to go.
Usual 1-on-1 style: I've asked Bo three questions about the Hawks, and he's responded with three on the Nets, plus predictions on tonight's final from each of us.
Bo Churney on the Atlanta Hawks
Devin: The Hawks just demolished the Nets without Josh Smith. Now Josh Smith is back. That's probably a good sign for Atlanta, right?
Bo: Josh being back is a win for long jumpers, that's for sure. Josh will certainly help the Hawks in terms of defense, but I'm interested to see how he responds to the suspension. He should have a pretty solid mismatch going at all times, so if he decides to be dedicated to the interior, then we could see a repeat of Wednesday night. If not, look for Smoove to get frustrated, not get back on defense, and leave the Nets with open shots, which have to fall eventually.
It also brings the question of which position he starts at vs Brooklyn. With how well Pachulia played on Wednesday, do you keep Z in the starting lineup and push Josh to the three? If not, you're looking at Horford guarding Lopez for extended periods of time, which is something that Horford just can't do, despite his defensive abilities.
Devin: We saw a glimpse of just how good the Jeff Teague-Devin Harris combo can be. What's your assessment of that tandem, both individually and when they play together?
Bo: When healthy, you could argue that Harris is actually the more important guard to the team. He defends better than Jeff, who has no idea how to defend a pick-and-roll, and he has been more persistent about getting to the basket and running in transition. Teague is still improving, but he has been as enigmatic as Josh Smith at times (in terms of energy), which is confounding for a guy with his speed.
The two work great together, mainly because of Devin's defense and commitment to running. Teague became increasingly timid with the ball while Devin was injured, which is something that is steadily vanishing with Devin's return. Statistically, they show to be one of the best backcourt options for the Hawks with an efficiency differential of plus-seven.
Devin: Wednesday night's demolishing notwithstanding, the Hawks have cooled off after a hot start. How have your expectations for this roster changed from the beginning of the season, and where are they at now?
Bo: I was a bit higher on the Hawks than most people, saying that they would probably finish with the 4th seed in the East. (behind Brooklyn, actually) They looked better than that early, winning at OKC, at Portland, and a win against the Clippers. Of course, that was when the jumpers were falling at a high rate.
What we've seen from the Hawks the last 10 games is when the jumpers aren't falling, meaning that it's still difficult to find where the Hawks fall in the Eastern Conference. If they ever do find some semblance of consistency (which isn't Atlanta's specialty), I still think they are in the same place that I predicted: 4th or 5th in the conference, first or second round exit. In other words, nothing new.
Prediction: The Hawks have problems with showing up to games with the proper energy level. I think Josh Smith getting suspended could have been a spark that gets this team going again after the 1-6 stretch that they had. I think Smoove tries to focus on getting into the paint early, and his success will give the Hawks an early lead that they usually thrive on. Hawks 101, Nets 91
Devin on the Brooklyn Nets
Bo: After a bad start to the season, Joe Johnson is finally starting to play a bit more like himself. How is he still adjusting to becoming more of an off-ball player?
Devin: He's done pretty well. You always expect some sort of adjustment period when two players who play somewhat similar games like Johnson and Deron Williams, and indeed for the first 15-20 games it felt like they were trading possessions on the floor together, rather than playing with some sort of basketball synergy. Johnson has two roles on this team -- with the starting unit, he and Deron play drive-and-dish/pick-and-roll with Brook Lopez, and Johnson will more often spot up with the starters. With the second unit, he's the requisite leader of the bench mob and does a little more creating with the ball in his hand. Personally, I think it's just an ebb-and-flow-of-the-season thing: Johnson wasn't making shots to start the season, but we have a decade of data that says he can hit those when given the opportunity.
Bo: Am I missing something about why MarShon Brooks isn't getting playing time? The Nets were high on him in the offseason, but now he's behind Jerry Stackhouse in the rotation?
Devin: Well, that's changing now. Stackhouse had one of the more unbelievable starts to the season -- his plus-minus led the entire NBA by about 15 points per 48 minutes, he was hitting corner threes with stunning regularity, and JERRY STACKHOUSE DUNKED IN A PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL GAME. But father time or mother nature or some matronly creature has caught up with Stackhouse, and Brooks has started to emerge under P.J. Carlesimo as the scorer we knew he had the potential to be from his rookie season in New Jersey.
Bo: The Hawks played a specific way on defense in the first game of this home-and-home... how do you expect the Nets to counter Atlanta's hard trapping of Joe and Deron on the perimeter?
Devin: I hope that they'll look more intently to run through Brook Lopez in the post in the first and third quarters, and Johnson's smart enough to know that he can't try to dribble out of the double-teams again. The Nets are at their best when they're firing the ball around the perimeter with four shooters out, and have Lopez moving through the high-low post. Ideally, the Nets can use the Hawks' double-team to their advantage -- if they can get it to whoever's open on the wing, they can drive to the basket either looking to score or dumping down to Lopez if Lopez's defender comes over to help. But that didn't exactly work Wednesday night.
Prediction: After two days of rest, I think the Nets will be better-prepared physically for the Hawks, and hopefully won't allow Jeff Teague and Devin Harris to play sprinting games on them again. I'm not confident in a Nets victory, but I'm more confident that the Nets will be able to slow down the transition game a bit. At the very least, I hope it's interesting.
Nets 95, Hawks 89