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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