The Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks have each started off the 2013-14 season with records that are not indicative of the collective talent each team is able to amass on a night-to-night basis. The Hawks’ lineup is revamped with the departure of forward Josh Smith and the subsequent arrival of power forward Paul Milsap. In the past Atlanta was guilty of lots of three pointers and seemed to devolve into a team heavy with one-on-one isolation sets whenever their offensive sets broke down. With addition of Milsap the Hawks now have a big man who doesn’t mind playing big.
Milsap is currently leading the Hawks in scoring with 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game. Unlike Smith, he rarely lets defenders off the hook by falling in love with the outside shot. He is currently shooting 57 percent from the field. No longer are his “sweet spots” usurped by a big man who likes to operate in the same areas as he-as was the case with Al Jefferson while they were both in Utah.
Veteran center Al Horford is averaging 18 per game and leads the Hawks in rebounds with 10 per game. A few years ago it was believed Horford was simply a power forward playing out of position, but this may be the season where Horford proves that he not only is he capable of shouldering that burden but can dominate on a night-to night basis as well. Such an ironclad inside presence is one of the top scoring duos in this still young season. They give guard Jeff Teague plenty of spacing to penetrate, and SG Kyle Korver is often wide open because of said the spacing the front court offers as well. Perimeter defense is a major area of concern.
The Knicks are in a bit of a miniature panic in part because of the nervous energy that radiates from the front office of James Dolan. He is already on record as threatening to shake up the squad because of their early 2-4 record. He recently went on record and guaranteed a win against the Hawks.
“Unfortunately, the basketball [team] couldn’t do it today. We’re going to win the next game, that’s a guarantee,” said Dolan after the Knicks were donkey-stomped by the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.
He didn’t say exactly what would happen if the Knicks didn’t defeat the Hawks, but the comment did have an air of “or else” about it. The Knicks have been a bit unlucky thus far in their season. Amar’e Stoudemire is still laboring along and trying to get back to form and the Knicks will be without NBA Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler for weeks. It would appear that Dolan’s guarantee could not have come at a worse time. Interior defense will be at a premium come Thursday night, and the Knicks just might be fresh out. Carmelo Anthony and Metta World Peace will likely take turns defending Milsap throughout the contest. Last season Horford was known for fall in love with the 15-footer from time to time, and the Knicks can only hope he rekindles that romance which had been discarded heretofore this season.
Raymond Felton will be tasked with keeping Teague out of the paint, which will be as daunting a task as any he has faced thus far this season. The Knicks’ only clear advantage as on the wings. In Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr and Metta World Peace they field several players who represent a unique combination of weapons on offense and defense that Atlanta cannot wholly match. The Knicks are in desperate need of a quality win, and this is about as quality as you can get considering recent losses to the Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, the listless Chicago Bulls and a loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday despite 45 points from Anthony. The Hawks win this one in a squeaker with high-percentage buckets in the paint from Horford and Milsap. The Knicks have no answer for either of them. They simply got lucky the first time around.
Ricardo Hazell is a freelance writer with Rant Sports based in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter at NikosMightyDad or add him to your network on Google Plus.
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