The Atlanta Hawks have a great opportunity to move up to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. The Hawks will need small forward Josh Smith to step up big in order to accomplish this goal.
Smith missed Atlanta’s four-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night with a knee injury, but was able to return to the lineup Friday against the Phoenix Suns. The Hawks were victorious in large part due to Smith’s performance. The eight-year veteran posted 17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, one block and three steals in 36 minutes while shooting 57.1 percent from the field.
Atlanta will need Smith to be the top performer against Brooklyn if the team wants to be victorious. He is averaging 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games against the Nets this season, but will have to up his production in this third meeting. The reason for this is because Brooklyn has an opportunity to move up to the third seed in the conference if the New York Knicks lose. This means they will be playing with an extra incentive to win.
If Smith can have another high-percentage effort from the floor then the Hawks should be in very good shape to win the game. However, they must slow down former teammate Joe Johnson in order to make that happen.
A victory over Brooklyn could be a major momentum builder with only 17 games left on the regular season schedule, nine of which come against postseason contenders. These are the games that Atlanta must win because falling to the eighth seed is the last thing they want to do. The Miami Heat have made it perfectly clear that no team in the East should want to face them in the first round of the playoffs.