Pregame Open Thread: Atlanta Hawks @ New Jersey Nets

For the third consecutive Sunday, the Nets face off against a difficult opponent in the Prudential Center. While Atlanta is a step below Los Angeles and Boston – as evidenced by the fact that the Nets actually beat them earlier this season – they’re still a very tough team with a ton of talent. The Nets come into this one having lost nine of their last ten and are still without sharpshooter Anthony Morrow and rookie Damion James. On the other side, 2010 free agency winner Joe Johnson is back from his elbow surgery, but sixth man Jamal Crawford is still listed as questionable.

Here are a few things to look out for in this game:

Can They Stop Joe Johnson? Stephen Graham or Quinton Ross will likely start at the 2 tomorrow, and while their respective reputations are that of a defensive stopper they haven’t shown much in that department this season. Johnson struggled in his return to action on Thursday, but against the *ahem* questionable defense the Nets have at the 2 spot (between Morrow/Farmar/Graham/Ross it’s a who’s who of “um, who?”), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him return to form. However, if Graham or Ross can rekindle what gave them their defensive reps or Johnson struggles, the Nets definitely have a shot.

Get Devin Going Early. Mike Bibby is a revolving door defensively, as is Jamal Crawford (even when healthy), and Devin is going to have a lot of opportunities to break them down off the dribble and slash to the rim. If he can get the Atlanta big men – their biggest strength – in foul trouble because Bibby can’t stay in front of him, that could go a long way towards securing a victory.

Remember What Worked. Earlier this season, the Nets beat the Hawks 107-101 in an overtime thriller (what? You question my use of the word “thriller?” ANY Nets overtime victory is thrilling. Beat that). Devin Harris & Brook Lopez combined for 59 points on 58% shooting and got to the line 18 times, the Nets only allowed the Hawks 13 trips to the charity stripe, and although they had their struggles defensively they were “much in the clutch,” only allowing eight points on 3-10 shooting in the final five minutes. If they can clamp down on defense when it matters, force bad shots without fouling (I’m looking at you, Derrick), and run the offense through the two best options, there’s a good chance the Nets can pull off another upset.

For more insight on the Atlanta Hawks, check out TrueHoop Affiliate Hoopinion.