Gameday Dish: Hawks Host the Nets

The Atlanta Hawks are flying high after last night’s huge win over the Magic in Orlando. And they accomplished this feat despite the absence of All-Star guard Joe Johnson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. Johnson could be sidelined for another month, so the Hawks must formulate a way to win without him.

Atlanta decided to go big against Orlando. They played Al Horford at the power forward position, moved Josh Smith over to the small forward spot, and started Jason Collins at center. Atlanta finally toppled their Southeast Division rivals after losing six straight, including last year’s playoff sweep. Smith came away with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Horford added 16 points and 10 boards.

We’ll see if this lineup continues to work its magic against the Nets tonight when they compete for the second time this season. The Nets bested Atlanta 107-101 in overtime at New Jersey a couple weeks back. But it’s mostly been down hill for the Nets ever since. They dropped five of their last six games and took a beating from Boston on Sunday. Brook Lopez and Devin Harris, who average a combined 35.8 ppg, were held to 12 total points. The Nets will look for a boost from their leaders and fight to regain their footing before falling deeper into a rut.

Ian Eagle and I have the call from Philips Arena at 7:00 PM ET on YES.

Gameday Dish: Wizards vs. Hawks on the Thanksgiving Menu

The Atlanta Hawks host the Washington Wizards tonight at Philips Arena in the Peach State. As uncomfortable away from D.C. as a rafter of Turkeys trying to maneuver on any of the ATL’s busy highway interchanges, the Wiz are winless on the road this young season at 0-6. And they have a ten-game losing streak against the Hawks coming into this Thanksgiving night contest.  Washington was last victorious against Atlanta in a regular season game almost three full calendar years ago.

From most calculated perspectives, the Wizards would appear to be an easy takedown. But on this national holiday, hope arrives in a cornucopia of forms for the squad from our capital city.  The Hawks have lost three games in a row, most recently bested in New Jersey 107-101 in OT on Tuesday night. The Wizards, on the other hand, are coming off of a hard fought, 116-114 overtime victory against our once-upon-a-time (temporary) capital city team – the Philadelphia Sixers.

Third-year center, 7-footer JaVale McGee had his best game of the 2010-11 season in the win, with season-high’s of 24 points and 18 boards – 10 of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass. And first overall pick PG John Wall was back in the Wiz lineup against the Sixers after missing the previous four games with a sprained left foot. Wall finished with 25 points and 6 dimes coming off the bench.

The speedster caused problems for Atlanta in their first season matchup, contributing 28 points and nine assists. Wall is a tough assignment for veteran Mike Bibby, who is approaching the end of his career and no longer has the quickness to keep up with the spry rookie. So it will be interesting to see if Atlanta adjusts their lineup to have someone else defend Wall.

Joe Johnson suffered a preseason injury to his left hand, which may be contributing to his slow start. And the Hawks have been struggling of late, going 2-7 in the last nine games. They are trying to regain the chemistry that ignited their 6-0 run to start the season.

Most of the attention in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division this season has been on D-Wade, LeBron and the Miami Heat. But tonight at 8pm ET on TNT, the spotlight will be focused on the intra-division matchup between the Hawks and the Wizards.  Eat up, settle in and enjoy the NBA action while you recover. Dick Stockton, Chris Webber and I will be doing the same. Happy Thanksgiving 2010!

Around the League: Jump Starts

Certain teams started out the season like they were supposed to: The Lakers are undefeated, while the Heat and Celtics are 4-1. Meanwhile some other teams have surprised us. There were big question marks about the Hawks, Hornets and Blazers heading into the season and all three have gotten off to a much better start than expected.

The Hawks steadily improved through each year of Coach Mike Woodson’s six-year tenure, culminating with three straight playoff appearances and an impressive 53-win season in 2009-10. In light of ownership’s decision to let Woodson go and the absence of any spectacular improvements to the roster, Atlanta’s future seemed tenuous. But since former assistant coach Larry Drew took over the reigns, his talented bunch (led by nine-year veteran Joe Johnson who’s averaging 19.6 PPG) have come out of the gates flying to five straight wins to lead the Eastern Conference.

Afflicted by injuries, superstar point guard Chris Paul was only able to play in 45 games last year, and his Hornets had to settle for a disappointing 37-win season. With Chris Paul’s rehabilitation ongoing this summer, all the speculation surrounding rumors that he would demand a trade, and the firing of Coach Byron Scott, New Orleans was bracing for another touch-and-go season.

But CP3 stayed, and in his first NBA campaign Head Coach Monty Williams has gotten off to an excellent start. Boasting a perfect 4-0 record, the Hornets trail the champion Lakers by just one win. And their future looks bright as Paul appears back to form, averaging over 35 PPG and 9 assists for fifth in the league.

Touted as the next big thing just a few years back, the Trail Blazers were plagued with injuries last season. 13 players combined to miss 311 games including Joel Przybilla, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. Considering Portland is still without big men Oden and Przybilla, they have gotten off to a surprisingly solid start. Last night the Blazers came up just one point short of a win over Durant and the Thunder in overtime to put their record at 4-2.

The Blazers capitalized on a fortuitous opening season schedule, catching the Knicks, Suns and Clippers who are all struggling with subpar starts. Portland is getting a balanced attack from Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller who work well together. And guys like Nicolas Batum are stepping up while they await the return of their bigs. Nate McMillan is an excellent coach. Having assisted Coach K and Team USA, he didn’t have much down time in the off-season but came back ready to go. Przybilla is targeting November 26 for his return to the lineup so if the Blaze can stay healthy, they should continue to contend.