Scouting Report: Washington Wizards

Saturday, March 29, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Scouting Report: Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards snapped a mini funk with a convincing victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, keeping Charlotte at arm’s length in the race to avoid seventh in the East.

Washington currently owns a 2-1 season series lead thanks to a 114-97 win in Atlanta last month in which only nine Hawks were available.  Atlanta is still dealing with injury issues but should have a few more bodies available this time around.  Pero Antic is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing one game with an ankle sprain, but Kyle Korver remains out with back spasms.

John Wall anchors Washington’s attack.  He scored 21 points in the Feb. 19 game, and his average is up to 20 a game.  That combined with his 8.8 assists per game makes him the East’s top point guard at the moment.  He loves attacking the basket, but he’s also fond of the mid-range pull up jumper, so Hawks guards will have to worry about both.  Wall prefers to go right, especially when pulling up for that elbow jumper, so if he does get to his right hand it’s important that defenders don’t give him space.

Two benefactors of Wall’s excellent passing ability have been wing men Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza.  Both are shooting better than 40 percent from three, and both have the ability to get and stay hot, so closing out on those two will be important.  Of course, Wall often draws double teams, so the Hawks will have to pick their spots and make sure that if they do leave Beal or Ariza, they do so at the appropriate time.

The Wizards appear to be locked into the sixth spot a this point, and while they still could technically move up or down in the standings, this looks to be a much more important game for the Hawks.

Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images

Portland Hands Hawks Fifth Straight Loss

Thursday, March 27, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Portland Hands Hawks Fifth Straight Loss

The Hawks (31-39) dropped their fifth game in a row as the Trail Blazers (46-27) came into Atlanta and ended a three-game skid of their own with a 100-85 victory. LaMarcus Aldridge made his first appearance in two weeks and put up 25 points and 16 rebounds on Atlanta. Damian Lillard added 21 points, six rebounds, and four assists for Portland.

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The Hawks were without Kyle Korver for the fifth straight game as he continues to deal with back spasms, and after spraining his ankle last night in Minnesota Pero Antic was unable to play. In their places, the Hawks started Elton Brand and Shelvin Mack, who both gave solid efforts. Brand had 11 points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes of play, while Mack had nine points, four rebounds, and three assists.

Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting, bouncing back from a scoreless game last night against the Timberwolves. Teague had 13 points in the first half as he and Brand were the bright spots of an otherwise disastrous first half for Atlanta.

The second quarter was especially rough, as the Blazers scored 31 points on 64.7% shooting and had 10 assists on their 11 made field goals. Lillard, Aldridge and Robin Lopez combined for 21 points — the same amount the Hawks scored in the quarter — as the Blazers offense hit it’s stride after a spotty first quarter.

The Hawks cut the 16 point halftime deficit down to six in the third quarter as the starters opened the quarter with a lot of energy on both ends of the floor. The Blazers pulled back ahead by 14 going into the fourth, aided by a contested Lillard three at the buzzer. The Blazers ended each of the first three quarters with a three-pointer with under one second left (Mo Williams in the first, Wes Matthews in the second, and Lillard in the third).

Lou Williams was quiet for the first three quarters, but exploded in the fourth for 13 of his 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Led by Williams, the Hawks were able to get the deficit back down to six, but looked like they ran out of gas at the end and were never able to finish the comeback effort.

Paul Millsap had 10 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals on the night, and was a team-high in +/- with a +5 (only player with a positive rating) in 35 minutes. Millsap was just 3-of-15 from the field (0-for-4 from three) and could never get his offensive game working. DeMarre Carroll was the only Hawk other than Brand and Teague to shoot 50% or better, going 5-of-6 from the field with 11 points and four rebounds.

The Blazers length had an advantage over the depleted Hawks on the glass with a 47-39 rebounding advantage, and had 14 second chance points off of 13 offensive rebounds. The real killer for the Hawks was their inability to make three-point shots, as they shot just 4-for-22 (18.2%) from deep — Portland shot 10-for-26 (38.5%). Atlanta got some good looks from deep, but their shots just wouldn’t cooperate.

The loss makes their lead for eighth place in the East just 1.5 games over the Knicks (2 in the loss column) and 3.5 games behind Charlotte for seventh. Atlanta will head to Washington for a tilt on Saturday night, with the Wizards looking to hold onto their sixth seed.

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Scouting Report: Portland Trail Blazers

Thursday, March 27, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Scouting Report: Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers (45-27) come to Philips Arena looking to snap a 3-game losing streak (3-7 in their last 10). The Hawks (31-38) have a 4-game losing streak of their own, and both teams hold just a two game lead over ninth in their respective conferences. The Blazers sit in fifth in the West, but with five through nine separated by just two games, they are far from safely in the playoffs.

After a scorching start to the season, Portland has cooled off significantly, going 5-9 in March, and with LaMarcus Aldridge (back) missing the last seven games (3-4) the Blazers have struggled to find the same rhythm they had early in the season. Aldridge has been upgraded to questionable for tonight’s tilt with Atlanta and said earlier in the week that he was targeting this game for his return. Aldridge himself had cooled off prior to the injury, but has still averaged a career-high 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game this season.

Aldridge gives the Blazers a frontcourt scoring threat from the post and, more significantly, mid-range. No player in the NBA has come close to taking the number of mid-range shots Aldridge has — his 786 mid-range attempts is 97 higher than second-place Carmelo Anthony. Helping Aldridge this season has been Robin Lopez, who provides a quality rebounder and defensive post presence next to Aldridge — something they lacked last year. Lopez can stay on the block while Aldridge picks and pops, and on defense allows Aldridge to play against power forwards where last year he often got worn down by opposing centers.

Damian Lillard is the reigning rookie of the year, and has continued his strong play from last year. Averaging 21.1 points and 5.6 assists per game, Lillard is explosive off the dribble and is a threat attacking the rim and shooting from three-point range (38.5% from three this season). Jeff Teague will have his hands full on the defensive end against Lillard, but Damian is a below-average defender, so Teague and the Hawks’ guards should have opportunities to get open looks at the basket.

Both teams have plenty of motivation going into this game with regards to the playoff race and each is on a losing streak preempted by injuries to important players (Aldridge and Kyle Korver). For the Blazers, finding ways to get defensive stops — their defense has struggled during this losing streak — will be key, while the Hawks have to find a way to slow Lillard and Aldridge while limiting their own turnovers — 25 against Minnesota doomed them.

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Hawks Lose to Wolves, Drop Fourth Straight

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Hawks Lose to Wolves, Drop Fourth Straight

The Hawks (31-38) dropped their fourth game in a row as the Timberwolves (35-35) ran away with a 107-83 victory. The Hawks had 26 turnovers — 17 Minnesota steals — leading to 32 points for the Timberwolves. Ricky Rubio led the Wolves defensive pressure with six steals along with 10 assists and four points, while Gorgui Dieng and Kevin Love dominated the paint with both recording double-doubles and combining for 29 points and 27 rebounds.

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The Hawks shot just 31% from the field in the first half but were still within striking distance with Minnesota leading by seven. However, after getting the deficit down to three early in the third quarter, the floodgates opened as the Wolves forced the Hawks into eight turnovers.

The Wolves carried a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter, and the Hawks continued to struggle offensively with turnovers — eight in the fourth — while Minnesota rained in six three-pointers on 12 attempts in the final period. With a back-to-back tomorrow in Atlanta, Coach Budenholzer had the bench unit play out the fourth quarter as Mike Scott was the only starter to see the floor.

Even when the Hawks were able to get into their offense, they struggled to hit shots and shot 37.8% for the game (25% from three). Scott led the Hawks with 15 points and seven rebounds as he got the start at small forward and was an efficient 6-for-11 from the floor. Aside from Scott, only Elton Brand and Cartier Martin shot 50% or better from the field. Jeff Teague was held scoreless with six assists, and Paul Millsap had 12 points and 10 rebounds, but was just 4-for-13 from the field.

Adding injury to insult, Pero Antic suffered a sprained right ankle after stepping on a coach’s foot on the sideline after a three-pointer. The Hawks loss moved them to 2.5 games ahead of the Knicks — in action tonight — and a Bobcats win made the gap to seventh place three games. All four of the Hawks losses have come with Kyle Korver out of the lineup, and on the season the Hawks are just 1-7 when Korver is out. The Hawks will play the Trailblazers back in Atlanta on Thursday night.

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Scouting Report: Minnesota Timberwolves

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
By Jaryd Wilson
Scouting Report: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves are probably the team that would benefit most if they were in the opposite conference.  They’d be sixth in tEast with their 34-35 record, but at seven games back of the final playoff spot in the West, their season is all but over barring a miracle.

The point of the above paragraph is to say that Wednesday night’s opponent is essentially an Eastern Conference playoff team.  The Wolves pushed the Hawks hard in Atlanta before falling 120-113, and starting center Nikola Pekovic didn’t play in that game.

Pekovic likely won’t play on Wednesday either.  He’s missed the past five games with a sore right ankle and is listed as doubtful.  The Hawks struggle at times on the glass, so avoiding him would be a huge break.  Minnesota will also be without backup center Ronny Turiaf, who suffered a bone bruise Feb. 19, and could be without backup point guard J.J. Barea, who missed Monday’s game with a sprained left foot.

Injuries have really hurt the Timberwolves the past three years, but one guy who’s healthy this season is All-Star starter and MVP candidate Kevin Love.  Love is arguably the best power forward in the league right now and is a matchup nightmare for opponents.  He can shoot the three, take bigger players off the dribble, draw fouls and score in the paint.  There’s really no easy way to guard him because he can shoot over almost everybody, so making shots difficult and double-teaming him when appropriate will be the keys to keeping him from having a duplicate game to the one he had Feb. 1 when he scored 43 points and grabbed 19 rebounds.

Kevin Martin’s return has been a welcoming sign for Minnesota.  He’s second on the team in scoring and is shooting 39 percent from three, so he’s a guy Atlanta will have to keep an eye on.  The Hawks did a pretty good job on him in the first game, and DeMarre Carroll will once again be tasked with containing an opposing team’s best wing player.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Timberwolves without mentioning Ricky Rubio.  He’s a pass-first point guard who’s always looking to create opportunities for his teammates.  He struggles with his perimeter jump shot, so this is one player Jeff Teague can afford to go under on during pick-and-roll situations.  Giving Rubio space is the best way to keep him out of the lane, where’s he’s effective at creating those opportunities for himself and others.

Atlanta is focused on improving and playing a consistent 48 minutes.  Other than one bad quarter against the Raptors Sunday, they’ve played really good basketball on the road the past four games.  Let’s hope that continues against a banged up Wolves team.

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Elton Brand Finding Success In An Ever-Changing Role

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Elton Brand Finding Success In An Ever-Changing Role

When I first spoke with Elton Brand this summer after he signed with the Hawks, we spent a lot of time discussing his last season in Dallas and learning to adapt to a lesser role. This season, Brand expected to be in a similar role as he was with the Mavericks, coming off the bench behind Al Horford and Paul Millsap and trying to provide the Hawks with leadership and a defensive presence in the paint.

Brand’s role finally seems defined as that bench big who anchors the defense and can score from the mid-range or the post when needed. This was the role he anticipated playing all season, but a combination of injuries to Horford, Pero Antic, and Millsap thrust Brand into more minutes than he ever expected to play this season.

“Coming into the season I thought my role would be where it is now. More of that first or second big coming off the bench for twenty-something minutes, around in that area, backing up Al and Paul and stuff like that.”

Prior to the season, Brand told Coach Budenholzer he would do what was needed for the team. However, at that time, the assumption was what may be needed from him was to be inactive some games, not play upwards of 42 minutes.

“It sounds kind of trite, but he just does whatever we need him to do,” Bud said. “He’s been, I remember at the beginning of the season, he said ‘I’ll wear street clothes, Coach, if that’s what you need me to do and you need me to dress out the young guys.’ And we did that. And when guys were injured and we needed him to play 42 minutes, he played 42 minutes. He’s made some big shots at the free throw line, and he’s had some big blocks defensively. His activity and his communication is just, it’s one of those things where I feel I could list off a ton of things and go on and on. He’s just been the ultimate team guy, and do whatever his teammates ask of him and his coaches ask of him, and he’s been a big part of who we are.”

With so many injuries to the Hawks’ frontcourt, Brand played 34.4 minutes per game over a seven-game stretch from February 17th to March 3rd.  During that stretch he averaged 9.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks and, despite the Hawks going 1-6, Brand was a critical part in the Hawks staying competitive in games. Getting into the mindset of playing not just a few more minutes, but heavy starters minutes, was just about doing what was needed.

“It’s just team. Team. You know, guys were hurt and we just wanted to compete. We competed every night, we just couldn’t get over that hump, we had too many guys down. We won that Knicks game, and that was the 42 minute game. I told coach, I’ll do whatever it takes. I remembered last year…for the Knicks, Kurt Thomas. He came back and broke his foot and kept playing and they won. You know, us super OG’s, as much as the game has given to us, you may just have to go out like that. So I’m like, whatever it takes. I’m trying to get out there and play and do whatever it takes to help us win games.”

Brand’s presence has helped stabilize the Hawks’ bench unit on both ends of the floor, and while his Net Rating is a -1.7 for the season, that is the second best among bench players — led by Shelvin Mack‘s -0.6. With Horford out, Brand leads the team in blocks at 1.2 per game despite averaging just 18.5 minutes per game. His presence in the paint has been critical for the Hawks in Horford’s absence, providing them with a rim protector — especially when Millsap is off the floor.

Brand has been able to adapt to whatever role the Hawks have needed him to fill this season, but it seems that he’s finally able to settle in as the first big off the bench playing around 20 minutes a night. For Brand, the descent from star to role player has been precipitated by age and injury, but this season he’s accepted his role as a veteran on the bench, a leader in the locker room, and — when called upon — he can still produce at a high level.

“It’s kinda like — you say self-awareness — it’s just taking the ego out of it. You’re not even thinking about yourself; you’re thinking about the team. This is a great organization and they’re building something here. You go play and compete with these guys every night, and at this stage you just want what’s best for the team and your teammates. You want to see them grow. You want to see them win. You want to see guys get to the playoffs, guys excel, (points to Millsap’s locker) guys become first-time All-Stars and things like that. Those are the things, that’s where you get your juice. And as a competitor you want to play, so don’t get me wrong, so I was staying ready for my chance cause I figured it would come sooner or later.”

His presence on and off the court has had a big impact on the team’s success despite the challenges they’ve had to face, and he has been one of the most impressive parts of this Hawks season. Brand’s role on the Hawks has been in flux for the majority of the year, but his commitment to filling whatever that role is has been unwavering.

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Hawks Fall To Hot-Shooting Suns

Monday, March 24, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Hawks Fall To Hot-Shooting Suns

The Hawks (31-38) dropped their third straight game as the Suns (42-29) came into Atlanta and scorched the nets, shooting 50% from three-point range en route to a 102-95 victory. Phoenix’s backcourt duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe had a strong second half and finished the game with a combined 39 points, 10 assists, and four steals.

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Bledsoe made all three of his three-point attempts, including the de facto dagger with 2:29 to play that put Phoenix up 12. Channing Frye led the three-point barrage going 4-of-9 from three-point range (and hit a pair of foot on the line two-pointers). Frye was 7-for-12 from the field overall with 18 points and pulled down seven rebounds.

DeMarre Carroll led the Hawks with 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting, as he was efficient shooting from the perimeter (2-of-4 from three) and attacking the rim to get to the free throw line (7-of-7), and helped hold the Hawks in the game in an otherwise disastrous third quarter with nine of his 19 points. Paul Millsap also had 19 points along with five rebounds, two steals, and two blocks on 6-of-14 shooting.

The Hawks had a strong first half, and led by three heading into the break. Lou Williams had his best showing in a long time with 17 points off the bench on 5-of-8 shooting and four rebounds. Williams looked decisive with his moves, getting to the rim when he could get a step to either get a shot off or get fouled and taking open threes when they were there.

“Yeah, I thought was one of the positives tonight. Lou had a good bounce. He played, I think decisively is a good word to use, and that really helped us a lot in the first half. There were stretches where we were hanging in there in the second half and he was a big part of that. So, that’s a real positive.”

Jeff Teague matched Williams’ 17 points on 4-of-10 shooting and added five assists and four rebounds. Teague led the Hawks with seven points in the fourth quarter — all on free throws — but it wasn’t enough to bring the Hawks back.

The Hawks downfall in this one was the third quarter, where the Suns outscored the Hawks 35-23 and shot 63.6% from the floor. Dragic and Bledsoe got rolling in the third with Dragic igniting the Suns offense with 14 points and Bledsoe adding nine.

Along with Dragic, Bledsoe, and Frye, the Suns got solid contributions from Markieff Morris and Gerald Green off the bench. Morris had 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in just 13 minutes of play, while Green had 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting. The two led the Suns to victory in the fourth quarter with nine points each on 70% shooting.

The loss puts the Hawks just 2.5 games up on the Knicks for the eighth seed in the Eastern conference and two games back of the Bobcats for seventh. For the Suns, the win moved them into the eighth spot in the Western conference, percentage points above Dallas. The Hawks next game is on the road in Minnesota on Wednesday night before returning home for a back-to-back against Portland in Atlanta.

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Scouting Report: Phoenix Suns

Monday, March 24, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Scouting Report: Phoenix Suns

The Hawks (31-37) will take on the surging Suns (41-29) Monday night at Philips Arena. Both teams will be on the second game of a back-to-back with the Hawks coming off of a tough loss to the Raptors and the Suns defeating the Timberwolves in Minnesota.

Phoenix’s backcourt duo of Goran Dragic — candidate for Most Improved Player — and Eric Bledsoe — back in the lineup from a knee injury — have been tremendous this season for first year coach Jeff Hornacek. Dragic is averaging 20.4 points and six assists per game on 51% shooting and a scorching 41.9% from three-point range. Bledsoe, in 31 games this season, is averaging 17.1 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Dragic and Bledsoe have been extremely successful because both have the ability to handle the ball and penetrate the defense off of pick-and-roll action, but with both on the floor, Dragic’s three-point efficiency has allowed him to apply pressure to defenses when playing off the ball. Keeping up with these two and keeping them out of transition will have to be the top priority for the Hawks defensively.

Working off of Dragic and Bledsoe on the wing is Gerald Green who has had a resurgent season after being buried on the bench in Indiana last season. Green is averaging 15.6 points per game on 44% shooting and 39% from three-point range. Green has benefited from the Suns’ pace of play and being able to be more of a spot-up shooter with Bledsoe and Dragic handling the ball more.

Phoenix, like the Hawks, often play with a pair of bigs that can stretch to beyond the three-point line. The Morris Twins — Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris — can each step outside (Marcus shoots at a 39% clip with Markieff at 31.6%), and Channing Frye is one of the best big men in the NBA shooting the three at 38.3% on the season on more than five attempts per game. The Suns use their bigs in a similar fashion as the Hawks, running a lot of pick-and-pop action to apply pressure to the opposing bigs who hedge on the pick-and-roll ball-handlers.

Defensively, the Suns allow 102.5 points per game, but because of their pace their defensive rating of 103.9 is near the league average. Limiting turnovers and attacking the paint, where the Suns lack a true rim defender, will be the offensive keys — as they always are — for the Hawks offense. Jeff Teague will need to take advantage of opportunities to get to the rim, and the Hawks shooters will have to be prepared for kick-out opportunities.

Kyle Korver has missed the last two games with back spasms, and his status is uncertain for Monday’s game. If Korver is unable to go, the Hawks will need others to step up and knock down shots from three-point range. Without Korver in the last two games, the Hawks are shooting below 30% on threes, which had been such a big part of their offensive success this season. DeMarre Carroll has struggled with his jump shot in the last two games, so the Hawks will look for him to bounce back and pick up some of the shooting slack if Korver remains out.

Both the Hawks and Suns have plenty of motivation heading into this game, with the Hawks maintaining a three-game lead over the Knicks for eighth in the East and the Suns a half game behind the seventh and eighth spots in the West (one-back in the win column).

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Hawks Fall to the Raptors in Toronto

Sunday, March 23, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Hawks Fall to the Raptors in Toronto

The Hawks (31-37) had an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but could never get their offense going in the final period in a 96-86 loss to the Raptors (39-30). Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 25 points — 13 coming in the fourth quarter on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting — and sealed the Raptors win with a steal and score in the final minute.

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The Raptors dominated the final quarter, shooting 60% from the field (66.7% from three) for 36 points. DeMar DeRozan was quiet for most of the first three quarters, but exploded in that final quarter with 10 points to give him 21 for the game. He and Lowry combined to outscore the Hawks by 8 in the final quarter (23-15).

The Hawks got off to a fast start and led 25-16 after the first quarter behind 12 points and four steals by DeMarre Carroll in the opening period — Carroll finished the game with 17 points, five steals and four assists. Atlanta kept up their defensive pressure and held the Raptors in check for the first three quarters, holding them to just 60 points, but struggles on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter negated their early dominance.

Paul Millsap also had 17 points with eight rebounds and three steals. Millsap had very good second and third quarters, but — like the rest of the team — struggled in the fourth quarter going just 1-of-4 from the field with three points. The Hawks offense as a whole shot just 27.3% from the field and were only 1-of-10 from three-point range.

Without Kyle Korver for the second-straight game, the Hawks three-point shooting has taken a significant hit. Losing his shooting has had a big impact, but just as important is the effect he has on defenses that spaces the floor and opens up shot opportunities for other players. Without Korver, the Hawks offense doesn’t have as much spacing and takes off some of the constant pressure that he applies with his off-ball movements.

Jeff Teague was the only other Hawk to reach double-figures with 16 points and five assists. With the offense struggling in the fourth quarter, Teague looked to initiate some offense on his own, but the Raptors defense was committed to collapsing into the paint forcing him into a number of contested shots even when he got in the paint.

The Hawks lead over the Knicks for eighth in the East is now just 2.5 games with 14 to play (12 to play for New York) and they fell 1.5 games behind the Bobcats for seventh. Atlanta will have a tough test in their next game as they will take on the Suns back in Atlanta on Monday night on the second game of this back-to-back.

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Scouting Report: Toronto Raptors

Saturday, March 22, 2014
By Robby Kalland

The Hawks win streak ended Friday night with a loss to the Pelicans. Atlanta will look to get back in the win column in Toronto as they look for their second win over the Raptors in six days. The Hawks beat the Raptors 118-113 in overtime in Atlanta last Tuesday behind 34 points from Jeff Teague.

Teague and Kyle Lowry had a terrific battle in the fourth quarter, and their matchup will be one to watch. Lowry had a rough start, but closed strong finishing with 20 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds. Teague did well to be aggressive and took advantage of the Raptors interior defense that was without Jonas Valanciunas who left the game with a sprained back — Valanciunas was back in action on Friday night — and had a big second half to help lead the Hawks to the win.

DeMar DeRozan continued his great play this season against the Hawks with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. DeRozan was held in check late in the fourth and in the overtime period, as the Hawks defense was successful against him bringing a quick double team when he caught the ball on the wing or in the corner, forcing him to pass out or shoot a contested shot.

The Hawks, up three on the Knicks for the eighth seed and one back of the Bobcats for seventh, will have plenty to play for in Toronto. They will have to do it without Kyle Korver — still suffering from back spasms — who did not make the trip to Canada.