Hawks soar into Barclays Center on a hot streak

Al Horford (AP)
Al Horford (AP)

Tonight, the Brooklyn Nets (7-8) welcome in the Atlanta Hawks (11-6) with hopes of winning three in row en route to a .500 record. Coming off a thrilling overtime win Wednesday over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, Lionel Hollins will need to alter the game plan to slow down another hot team in the midst of a winning streak.

Head Coach Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks have won six of seven games, including four in row after a 112-102 road win on the road against the Miami Heat Wednesday night. The Nets defense will have their hands full with the high-scoring Hawks, who are shooting 48 percent while scoring at least 100 points in all but three games.

Point guard Jeff Teague, coming off a 27-point, six-assist effort, will be one of the focal points in stopping the high scoring Hawks. The elusive 6-2 point guard in his sixth season is having perhaps his best season, posting career-high averages in points (18.8), assists (7.2), field goal percentage (.486), and three-point percentage (.415) while eclipsing 20 points in 10 his 17 starts.

The Nets will need another encouraging effort from their bigs in defending pick-and-rolls and dribble penetration without forgetting about Kyle Korver on the wings, another guard on pace for a career year.

While the Nets’ defense did hold the Spurs to 35 percent shooting, they had a difficult time preventing Danny Green from getting wide-open looks from three-point range, including the game-tying shot in regulation. The Nets could use a refresher course in defending the three, because Korver is torching the twine from deep this season at a 57 percent(!!) clip (51-90), and will launch from anywhere at any time.

The good news for the Nets: the Hawks are ranked second to last in the league in rebounding, a facet that has been a challenge this season for Brook Lopez and the front-court players. But on Wednesday, both Lopez and Mirza Teletovic showed an energetic presence on the glass, combining for 31 rebounds. With a rested Kevin Garnett, they have some mojo to build-on against the Hawks.

The duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap will be no picnic. Horford has missed time the past few seasons with pectoral injuries, but is a steady force inside, averaging 13.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 29.2 minutes per game while shooting 56 percent from the field. Millsap, coming off an All-Star season, will be a tough matchup for whomever Hollins decides to use due to his versatile skillset. The 6’8″ forward has a lethal inside/outside game that will present matchup problems for Garnett and Teletovic, who have the added tasks of help assignments to worry about.

As good as Teague has been running the point, Dennis Schroder has emerged quickly a spark plug of the bench who deserves immediate attention, and not because of that prominent blond streak in his hair. The German-born 6’1″ rail of a point guard has provided instant offense, averaging 9.3 points in only 17.3 minutes. Budenholzer has staggered the minutes on many nights to get Schroder on the floor with Teague, or even finish the game at the point; he’s a tremendous asset to have during the four game/five night stretch they recently conquered.

The Nets are not a group known for their quickness or harassing defense, but their last two games might be reflective of a team buying into a Hollins’ system that has a resume of success. Joe Johnson will probably need to contribute more on the offensive end than the eight points in 42 minutes he churned out against the Spurs if the Nets will prevail tonight. The Hawks fly around the court; the Nets will need to keep up.

Tip-off at 7:30 P.M. EST.