The Back Story (First meeting of the season. Split 2013-2014 season series 1-1):
|Hawks 107, 97
|Clippers 109, Hawks 108
The Big Picture:
The travel-weary Clippers stumble into the Highlight Factory hoping to finish the vaunted "four games in five nights" NBA death gauntlet with a 2-2 split. A win in Atlanta would be impressive, and not just because the Hawks are ostensibly the type of quality playoff opponent the Clippers have struggled to beat this season. (I say "ostensibly" because they're an Eastern Conference quality playoff opponent, which is kind of like bragging to Clayton Kershaw that you were MVP of your office softball beer league). The Clippers played each game in this pair of back-to-backs in a different time zone. That has to take its toll on a Clippers roster that is the eighth-oldest in the NBA--and that figure includes the ages of Doc rotation favorites Reggie Bullock and C.J. Wilcox. Let's hope the Clippers front office remembers to tip the NBA scheduling guys over the holidays this year, lest we start next season's Grammy trip in Guam.
You could also forgive the Clippers for looking past a December road game in Atlanta towards the looming Christmas-day matchup with the Warriors. It's the first chance the team will have to avenge it's nationally-televised shellacking by the Dubs earlier this year. With the schedule, travel, and psuedo "trap game" forces working against his troops, it might be an ideal game for Doc to pull a Popovich and send much of his personnel to a day spa in Savannah. However, Doc has never subscribed to the Spurs "20 hour work week" philosophy in the past, and the Hawks are also playing the end of a back-to-back.
Delight, true NBA nerds! You'll get to see the Fighting Budenholzers on your very own television tonight! The red-hot Hawks have quietly (silently?) won nine of their last ten, compiled the second best record in the Eastern Conference, and trail the conference-leading Raptors by only one game. To those naysayers who make condescending Eastern Conference jokes in their SB Nation game previews, Hawks fans will point to their impressive four-game win streak: a home win over the Bulls, and then consecutive road victories against the Cavs, Rockets, and Mavericks. Those road victories are all the more eye-opening when you consider Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, who leads the team in scoring and assists, missed all of them (he is questionable tonight). Backup guard Dennis Schroder has filled in admirably for the Hawks, who get it done with astounding ball movement. The Hawks lead the league in assists.
- Comparison of Key Metrics. As both teams struggle with rebounding, this game might be decided by who can effectively grab a board on a key defensive possession. The Hawks are 26th in rebounding, while the Clippers are 28th. Don't be surprised if DJ goes for another 20-rebound game this afternoon.
- Battle of the Pin-Up Shooters: Shooting aficionados and fans of well-pronounced male cheekbones are in for a treat. Hawks sharpshooter and Ashton Kutcher knock-off Kyle Korver is enjoying a career year, shooting better than 50% from the field and a ridiculous 54% from three. Korver is being mentioned as a possible All-Star. Clippers deep threat and General Hospital stand-in JJ Redick has played well in December, shooting 50% over his last ten games.
- The Umlaut: I'm sure someone already has nicknamed Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder, but I'm throwing "the umlaut" out there just in case (it goes above the "o", but I'm too lazy to find it in this editor). Budenholzer has opted to start the first-round draft pick and former Phantoms Braunschweig star in Teague's absence, although Butler standout Shelvin Mack picks up a lot of minutes. Schroder went off against Dallas last night, scoring 22. Look for Chris Paul to exploit his strength advantage over the 6'1, 170 Schroder.
- Another Team Impersonating the Spurs: The Clippers should be familiar with much of Atlanta's offensive sets, considering they had a heavy dose of it yesterday against San Antonio. Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer was a Popovich assistant for years. Let's hope Atlanta doesn't shoot 80% against us.
- Checking the Josh Smith Ticker: Is it a coincidence that we're in Atlanta when rumors of a Josh Smith-Clippers pairing are swirling? In one word: yes. The Heat look to have the inside track on the mercurial small forward, but that won't stop Clipper fans from trying to picture how Smith might fit into the Clippers rotation tonight (Disaster? Savior? Disastavior?). Especially after DeMarre Carroll drops 50.
- Connections: Clippers assistant coach and professional goatee model Mike Woodson was head coach of the Hawks from 2004-2010. Jamal Crawford won his first sixth man award while with Atlanta in 2010. Oh, and some guy named Elton Brand still plays for Atlanta.
- Wikipedia entry: It looks like Atlanta is not the only city that lays claim to title "A-Town". Sorry, Jermaine Dupri.
Update: Teague upgraded to "probable". Hawks backup center and part-time Bond henchman Pero Antic listed as questionable (ankle).
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