Brooklyn Nets face tough task vs. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks are the top team in the East. (AP)
The Hawks are the top team in the East. (AP)

The Brooklyn Nets (18-26) avoided a tough contest on Monday night due to the threat of inclement weather, skipping their game against the Portland Trail Blazers. But the road only gets harder.

Now that the storm has subsided, the team’s next mission lies ahead in Georgia, against the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks (37-8) who have won an astounding 16 straight games. That’s right: 16, s-i-x-t-e-e-n. Head Coach Mike Budenholzer, the early odds-on favorite for Coach of the Year, has his team playing elite, team basketball on both sides of the floor, ranking in the top five of the NBA in both points scored and allowed per possession. They’ve been the best in the NBA in net rating over the last three-plus weeks… as the Nets have tumbled to the bottom.

If a 16-game winning streak isn’t impressive enough for you, the Hawks have won 30 of their last 32 games, and could send four guys in reserve uniforms to the All-Star Game. Budenholzer, an assistant for 17 seasons under Spurs coaching legend Gregg Popovich, has proven to be a chip off the ol’, block instilling a style that has been a recipe for success for a long time in San Antonio spurring five championships. “They could at least change the calls,” Popovich joked to David Aldridge this month.

Led by point guard Jeff Teague (17.1 points, 7.5 assists per game, 47.3 percent shooting), the Hawks lead the league in assists per game (26.2) and three-point field goal percentage (38.7 percent). Kyle Korver, who was dealt by the then-New Jersey Nets on draft night is shooting an eye-popping 53.7 percent behind the arc. The duo of Paul Millsap (17 points, 7.9 rebounds per game) and Al Horford (15.2 points on 54.6 shooting) have been steady up front all season, and should give the Nets matchup problems in the low post.

While the offense’s efficiency continues to gel and shoot for a high percentage (47.3 percent), the defense has been equally effective, holding opponents to only 43.7 percent shooting and just 96.2 points per game, the 2nd best mark in the NBA. DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha’s physical defensive style mesh well within Budeholzer’s system and mirror many of the productive role players that have graced Spurs’ rotations for years.

Their first meeting this season on December 5th went kind of how you’d expect:, the Nets were outscored 36-13 in the second quarter while shooting just 37.5 percent for the game en route to a 98-75 defeat on their home floor.

For the Nets, Deron Williams will miss his tenth straight game despite returning to the non-contact portion of practice yesterday. The Nets are 2-10 since he suffered his rib injury in early January. The Nets will also be without Mirza Teletovic, who will miss the remainder of the season after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs. For the Hawks, fourth-year guard Shelvin Mack will miss his fifth straight game with a calf injury.

Tip-off is at 8:00 PM E.S.T. at Philips Arena in Atlanta. The game will be televised on ESPN.