Following a bitter loss to the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia hits the road where they’re a dismal 6-20 on the season to face a playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks squad. The Hawks have done an admirable job staying in the hunt for first round home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs, currently in 6th place only a half game back of fourth. The Hawks have stayed the course despite losing Bow Wow’s good friend Lou Williams to a torn ACL and having to endure the swirling trade rumors surrounding star Josh Smith at the trade deadline that eventually amounted to nothing. They remain firmly in the pack of teams hoping LeBron tweaks a hamstring in the playoffs giving their team a chance to advance out of the east.
Atlanta returns home after a six-game road trip having lost their last three games. However, home cooking has treated the Hawks well this season, where they’ve gone 18-10. Lacking a true go-to-scorer, the Hawks share the ball as well as anyone in the league ranking first in assist percentage in the league at 65.3%. Atlanta often runs it offense through the high-post, low-post combo of Josh Smith and Al Horford. Smith does a little of everything for the Hawks, averaging 17.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, while remaining active on the defensive end, ranking 9th in the NBA at 2.0 blocks per game. Horford sits right there with Smith in terms of impact, averaging a double-double with 17.3 points on 55.7% shooting and 10.0 rebounds, while also accruing a very respectable 3.2 assists. In the wake of Joe Johnson’s offseason departure, point guard Jeff Teague has also stepped up his game with career-highs in points (14.3) and assists (7.1), and sporting very efficient percentages for a guard (.450/.364/.883). Former Sixer and teen heartthrob Kyle Korver provides needed spacing for Atlanta, ranking 1st in the league in 3PT% at 46.2%, but is questionable for tonight’s game after sitting out Monday with a toe injury.
In the teams’ first meeting, the Sixers won handily 99-80. However, the Sixers shot an uncharacteristic 51.2% from the field in that game, and also received Jason Richardson’s best performance of the season, contributing 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists. One aspect of that victory that appears sustainable was Jrue Holiday shutting down Teague, holding him to just 5 points and 3 assists. Philadelphia also scored 26 points off of 17 Hawks’ turnovers; Atlanta can be sloppy with the ball at times, especially Josh Smith, so the Sixers will need to remain active on defense as they did in that contest and last night versus Boston.
Keys to the Game:
- Force Josh Smith out of the paint and goad him into taking jumpers. Smith ranks among the worst jump shooters in the game, shooting 29.4% from mid-range, and continues to frustrate Hawks’ fans by taking a ton of those shots. Smith is an excellent finisher on the post and in transition so make him dig his own grave from the outside on the offensive end.
- Holiday needs to shut down Jeff Teague again and also break out of this shooting slump he’s been in recently. Jrue has a couple inches on Teague so I’d like to see him work to get deeper in the lane on him for some higher percentage shots.
Atlanta’s positive home splits and Philadelphia’s negative road splits are impossible to ignore. The Sixers are also playing the tail-end of a back-to-back against a rested Atlanta team. Horford has a big game against Hawes and company on the inside. Holiday breaks out of his mini-slump but it’s not nearly enough as the Sixers drop another one in a fairly easy Atlanta victory.