The Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets faced off three times in the first ten games of this crunched NBA season: twice in Jersey and once in the ATL. The Hawks won all three contests and look to sweep the series at home tonight. The good news for the guys from the Garden State is that their margin of defeat went from 36 to 7 to 5. If the Nets continue to gain ground on the Hawks they just might get a long overdue W.
The Hawks last played on Wednesday, when they bested the young Cleveland Cavaliers and soon-to-be Rookie of the Year PG Kyrie Irving in OT, 103-102. 8th-year forward Josh Smith led the team with 32 points and 17 boards. But 11th-year SG Joe Johnson saved the day with a 3-bomb at the end of regulation and the winning basket in the bonus round.
The Nets lost to the Wizards on Wednesday at home, 108-89. The game marked the 10th straight outing without starting center Brook Lopez, who will be sidelined again tonight (and perhaps for the remainder of the season) with a sprained right ankle. PG Deron Williams and head coach Avery Johnson were both ejected in the third quarter for arguing a non-call on a Williams drive to the hoop.
The emotional third quarter was the culmination of a frustrating season fraught with injuries and hard-to-swallow losses. New Jersey needs a win badly. But they haven’t fared anywhere near well at Philips Arena of late. In fact, they’ve dropped six in a row in the Peach State by an average of 17.2 points.
On the plus side, in their three losses to the Hawks this tilt NJ didn’t have Mr. Hustle, Gerald Wallace. The 11th-year SF will suit up for the Nets for the fourth time since being acquired from Portland before the trade deadline last week. The one-time NBA steals leader has averaged 17 ppg and 6 rpg for NJ. In their recent loss at Cleveland, the athletic swingman had an impressive 27 and 12 run in 40 minutes of court time.
The Nets have dropped six of their last seven contests and sit 8.5 games behind the current eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, their Hudson River rivals, the NY Knicks. With only 18 games remaining in the regular 66, hope against hope, the Nets still have a small statistical shot at the postseason.
Realistically, they’ll be on the outside looking in come playoff time. But finishing the year with effort, enthusiasm and heart will go a long way with their fan base and serve as a classy adieu before they pull up stakes and head to Brooklyn next year.
Tune in to YES tonight at 7:30 PM ET to see if the Nets can right their ship against the Hawks in Hotlanta.