Atlanta Hawks (8-4) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (4-7)
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Last game: Minnesota: W (!) 87-80 vs New Orleans, Atlanta: W, 111-81 (!!) vs Charlotte
Injury report: Wolves: Malcolm Lee (Back), Brad Miller (Knee), JJ Barea (Ankle), Michael Beasley (Foot).
Hawks: Al Horford (Shoulder), Marvin Williams (Ankle), Tracy McGrady (Back).
Minnesota won last night, which is noteworthy, although perhaps less noteworthy considering the team they beat and the player who was sitting out (Eric Gordon). The Wolves forced their way to the free throw line with abandon, which ended up being more than the difference as they knocked off the Hornets on the road.
The Hawks won by 30, which is noteworthy, over Charlotte, which makes it slightly less noteworthy (patterns!). Josh Smith dropped 30 on the overmatched Bobcats as Atlanta moved to 8-4 on the season, good for 5th in the East, and only half a game behind three other Eastern Conference teams.
The Key Questions
#1. Which Atlanta team is going to show up tonight?
So far this season, the Hawks have looked awesome against the Bulls, Nets, Heat, Wizards, and Bobcats. They have looked awful against the Bulls, Heat, Bobcats, and Rockets. Another year, another bipolar Atlanta team. Need evidence of their bipolar-ness? The Hawks beat Miami with Wade, LeBron and Bosh, then a lost three days later to Miami with LeBron and Wade both sitting out.
But take a look at that chart at the top of the preview again. That differential between offensive and defensive efficiency? 7.9. That’s good for third in the NBA, behind just Chicago and Philadelphia. And unlike Philly, Atlanta’s schedule so far has been full of tough teams, including Miami and Chicago twice, and Indiana. This is a good team, potentially a great one.
Of course, the Hawks are also completely capable of coming out flat and losing to a bad team like Houston, so it really is a toss up. Hopefully the second night of a back to back will affect them mentally.
#2. Can the Timberwolves avoid a slow start?
A slow start doomed the Wolves against Chicago. It almost doomed them last night against the Hornets. Atlanta is much more like Chicago. If the Wolves come out of the gate shooting badly and turning the ball over, Atlanta could certainly break out and put Minnesota away early.
#3. Who guards Joe Johnson?
Last night Ridnour started at shooting guard. Joe Johnson would eat him like a buffet. Will the Wolves let Ridnour guard him to start the game and hope for the best? Or, more likely, will Wes be put back at the 2? Either way, Johnson presents a fairly serious matchup problem for the Wolves. Which, leads us to…
The Key Matchups
So we’ve covered Johnson.
Kevin Love vs Josh Smith will be pretty fascinating. Both players much prefer to take outside jumpers rather than posting up. Both players are good rebounders, though for different reasons. Smith is hyper athletic, while Love positions himself well.
Rubio may be tired after last night…he got well over 40 minutes of action for the first time last night. We’ll see if he gets as many minutes tonight with a night off coming on Sunday.
But most importantly…Zaza! Darko! Iiiiiit’s the NBA on League Pass!
I’ve been looking forward to this game all weekend, actually. While many of you will be watching Tim Tebow (and I understand), I’ll be watching one of the more intriguing Timberwolves games of the year. The Hawks are a tough test, but if the Wolves play to their potential, they can win this game.
Of course, if they don’t play to their potential, they could easily lose by 30 as well. Either way, I think we will learn something about the Wolves tonight.
All 3 of us who will be watching.
Game starts at 6 on League Pass