Hawks vs. Bobcats Game Preview
The Hawks (16-13) are coming off of a grueling double-overtime win over the Cavs in Cleveland on Thursday that saw Al Horford (right shoulder) and DeMarre Carroll (right thumb sprain) each go down with an injury in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats (14-15) are winners of four of their last five games, and their offense, which is the second worst in the NBA this season at 92.4 points per game, has been much better in their last five, scoring 102.2 points per game.
What has been most impressive about the Bobcats this season is their dramatic defensive turnaround under first year coach Steve Clifford. The Bobcats are second in defensive rating (100.6) and third in points per game allowed (93.6) after being the worst team in the NBA last year in defensive rating (111.5) and the second worst in points per game allowed (102.7). This dramatic turnaround can be attributed to a number of things like the emergence of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a lock-down wing defender, Kemba Walker‘s great overall play, a new defensive philosophy, etc. Clifford has done a tremendous job installing his system on defense and fitting it to his players’ strengths.
On offense, the Bobcats have struggled and are second worst in the NBA in offensive rating (99.3) and points per game (92.4), but their great defensive play keeps them in games and slows down the pace of play. The Bobcats are 24th in the NBA in pace at 92.4, compared to the Hawks’ 95.1 pace rating, which is 11th in the NBA. Controlling tempo and pace will be crucial for both teams, as the Hawks will look to speed up the Bobcats by forcing turnovers and playing in transition, while the Bobcats will want to keep the game a half-court affair.
The two men in charge of controlling the pace will be the two point guards, Jeff Teague and Kemba Walker. Each point guard is having an excellent year, and have been playing very well of late. Teague is coming off of a career-high 34 points and 14 assists in the Hawks’ double-overtime win against Cleveland, while Walker has been averaging 26 points and 5.2 assists over the past six games for the Bobcats (4-2 in that stretch). This point guard match-up will feature two of the best in the Eastern Conference this season, as both are making their case for the All-Star game.
In the frontcourt, the Hawks will have a very different look with Horford out, and Paul Millsap will work with the likely platoon of Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, Mike Scott, and Pero Antic. The Hawks will start Brand opposite Al Jefferson in an effort to have their best possible rim protector in against the Bobcats’ best interior scorer.
The Hawks will also be depleted at the wing if Carroll cannot pay with his sprained thumb, as Kyle Korver, Cartier Martin, and Lou Williams will have to pick up the slack on the wing, particularly defensively against Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson.
The short-handed Hawks, who have also played in three overtime periods this week, will have quite the challenge against a much improved Bobcats team.
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