The Atlanta Hawks had a tough season last year. They hired Greg Popovich's disciple Mike Budenholzer, lost an Elite Astronaut in free agency, and barely made it into the playoffs as the eighth seed. Wait a minute, those all sound like good things. However, they flipped their record from the prior year going 38-44 on the season.
Currently the Hawks sit at 5-5 on the season and are 4-1 at home. While their offense is better than it was last year, their defense is just as worse. Their only home loss came against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, so they will be looking to avenge their home turf. On the other hand, the Pistons are looking to use a morale victory against a good team to boost their spirits and hopefully take another from Atlanta on their home floor.
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
Exceptionally Detailed Analysis
Roster wise the Atlanta Hawks are pretty much the same team they were last year. The only player to leave was John Salmons and the only player brought in was Thabo Sefolosha. But that's only roster wise. Stats wise, they are a completely different team.
Last year the Hawks were an average team in terms of points per game (14th at 101) and opponent points per game (15th at 101.5). This year their offense is better as they are 10th in the league scoring 102.6 points per game. But while their offense got better, their defense plummeted. They are allowing 103.9 points per game on the year, good for 24th in the league. These things likely won't be a factor when they face the Pistons tonight.
Their five wins have come against the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks (twice - a home-and-home set), Utah Jazz and Miami Heat. In four of those games, the Hawks held their opponent to under 100 points. So it appears that they play much better against the bottom feeding teams (Miami excluded). Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Pistons currently are.
When I think of the Hawks, I think of what the Pistons could be. Andre Drummond is not as defensively gifted as Al Horford his, but he definitely could be. Greg Monroe is almost as offensively gifted as Paul Millsap is. The small forward position is one of weakness for both teams. We are all hoping that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can become the shooter that Kyle Korver is (who is shooting an insane .561 from deep on 5.7 attempts per game). And lastly you have Brandon Jennings and Jeff Teague, who before Jennings was traded to Detroit were once rumored to be on the verge of being swapped for one another. Both are within an inch of each other height wise, both came into the league at the same time, and both can be as off as they have been on.
For the Pistons to win this game, they will have to do what they have been doing down low and that is win the board battle. Though Horford and Millsap are good rebounders, the Hawks are 27th in the league in rebounds per game whereas the Pistons are fourth, with a difference of over six boards per game. If the Pistons can control the boards and make layups/putback dunks, they have a chance to win this game. However, perimeter defense is also going to be key.
As stated earlier, Korver is a big threat from long distance. Of those attemping more than three 3-point shots per game, he is second only behind Courtney Lee. You cannot leave him open. This will be an ideal test for KCP. But KCP is not the only person who is going to have guard the long ball, Mike Scott is shooting .394 on 3.7 attempts per game and Millsap is .371 on 3.5 attempts per game. This could be ugly.
Players to Watch
Detroit: Josh Smith
Josh Smith would have been the obvious choice simply because he played most of his career in Atlanta. But he is my choice this time because of 1) his benching last game and 2) guarding Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha is not a threat offensively, so there is no real reason to start Josh Smith due to "defense." Jonas Jerebko, who has been playing mostly PF, would be an ideal candidate to start in his place. That doesn't mean it is going to happen though.
Atlanta: Paul Millsap
Millsap is offensively gifted. He can score efficiently from all over the floor. Unfortunately, that means Greg Monroe is likely going to have to chase him all over the floor. If Monroe can beat Millsap up down on the block on offense, maybe that will tire Millsap out. Last year Millsap averaged 20 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game while Monroe averaged was held to 15.3 and 10.8 respectively.
Last Time We Met
The Pistons split the season series with the Hawks last year going 2-2. The Pistons lost the first two matchups of the season but won the last two, one at home and one in Atlanta. The last game they played against each other was in Atlanta and Detroit lead for all but four minutes of the game. Detroit would win 102-95 with Monroe going for 21 and 13, Drummond going for 19 and 17, and Rodney Stuckey getting 12 freebies en route to a 29 point performance.
Detroit - 103, Hawks - 100
Pistons: Jennings, Caldwell-Pope, Smith, Monroe, Drummond
Suns: Teague, Korver, Sefalosha, Millsap, Horford
Pistons: Gigi Datome (hamstring), Martin (foot) are probable; Meeks (back) is out
Hawks: DeMarre Carroll
With the "emergence" of Jonas Jerebko and bench of Josh Smith, does Josh Smith start or come off the bench?