Atlanta Hawks Game Preview: Feb. 2 at Houston Rockets

Feb 1, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) looks on from the court during the first half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 1, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) looks on from the court during the first half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks travel to Houston tonight to take on the Rockets in the second game of a back-to-back. Can they bounce back from their blowout loss to the Heat?

I still don’t have the Atlanta Hawks completely figured out. After winning a four overtime insanity filled carnival ride of a basketball game on Sunday, they followed that up by getting blown out by the suddenly red-hot Miami Heat.

The Hawks looked sluggish against the Heat, shooting below 40 percent from the field and below 30 percent from three-point range. They don’t have time to lick their wounds. The team with the third best record in Western Conference is staring them in the face.

The Hawks are in Houston tonight to take on the 36-16 Rockets. Hey, isn’t there another team from Atlanta playing in Houston this week? Isn’t that a pretty important game? Anyway, let’s move on from the sport with a misshapen ball.

The Rockets have undergone an impressive turnaround under veteran head coach Mike D’Antoni. As I mentioned, Houston has the third best record in the Western Conference. They have asserted themselves as a real contender to challenge the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs for supremacy out west.

If Atlanta’s offense performs like it did against the Heat this one could get ugly. Houston’s offense can put up points in a hurry and this is not a good match-up for the Hawks. This also marks Dwight Howard‘s first game in Houston since he exited stage left this past summer.

There was an assortment of drama involving Howard during his time with the Rockets. I can only imagine the chorus of boos Rockets fans will rain down upon him.

These teams have already played once this season, Nov. 12 in Atlanta. The Hawks were victorious that night, defeating Houston 112-97. Paul Millsap lead the way for the Hawks with 23 points and 11 rebounds. James Harden scored 30 points for Houston, but somehow Atlanta held on for the win.

Who will come out on top after round two?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat

Thing To Watch For Atlanta: Tired Legs Equals Missed Shots?

Yes, I’m going to keep harping on the four overtime game. There’s no telling the long-term impact something like that can have on a player’s body. Fortunately the blowout loss to Miami gave Mike Budenholzer a chance to give the starting five a bit of a breather.

No starter played more than 26 minutes against Miami. The exhaustion seemed to impact Atlanta’s shooting the most, the Hawks shot 7-for-26 as a team from three-point range. Their three-point shooting was one of the primary reasons for their success in January.

Atlanta shot 39.4 percent from three-point range during the month of January, up from their 34.5 percent season average. They saw huge improvements from Kent Bazemore, Malcolm Delaney, and Tim Hardaway Jr, who each shot better than 40 percent from three-point range during the month.

To beat the Rockets they’re going to have to score and score often. Their highest scoring games usually coincide with hot shooting from three-point distance. Can the Hawks prove that they can win games with their offense rather than their usually stingy defense?

Jan 31, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) warms up before a game against the Sacramento Kings at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 31, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) warms up before a game against the Sacramento Kings at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Thing To Watch For Houston: Offensive Firepower

The Rockets are led by James Harden, who is having an MVP level season. They’ve surrounded him with shooters like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Houston’s offense is unstoppable at times. Through 52 games they’ve got the second rated offense in the NBA, scoring 114.1 points per 100 possessions.

As you’d imagine, they take a ton of three-pointers and they live at the free-throw line. They lead the league in three-point makes and attempts. They also lead the league in made free-throws and are second in free-throw attempts. It’s “Moreyball” at its finest.

They’re led, of course, by James Harden. Harden has become the point guard of Mike D’Antoni’s dreams. Harden is averaging 28.4 points, 11.5 assists, and 8.2 rebounds per game on 44.4 percent shooting and 34.3 percent from deep. He’s shooting 86 percent from the free-throw line and gets there 10.5 times per game.

Thabo Sefolosha is expected to return tonight after dealing with a nagging groin injury, so he’ll likely be tasked with slowing down Harden. If Sefolosha can’t go Kent Bazemore may draw the assignment. Either way, it will be tough to stop Harden. He’s going to get his. Atlanta would be best served trying to thwart the pieces around Harden.

Jan 31, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) dribbles the ball as Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) defends during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 31, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) dribbles the ball as Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) defends during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Opposing Player(s) To Watch: Eric Gordon And Ryan Anderson

James Harden is Houston’s best player, but Eric Gordon may be their best story this season. Gordon’s career seemed snake-bitten during his time in New Orleans. His career has been defined by injuries and wasted potential.

He’s been reborn in Houston. Through 48 games Gordon is averaging 17.3 points per game on 42.1 percent shooting and 38.6 percent from outside. He’s gone from afterthought on the Pelicans to the second leading scorer on one of the best teams in the NBA. Quite the turnaround, indeed.

The same things can be said for Ryan Anderson. Anderson is the perfect stretch-four for Mike D’Antoni’s system. Anderson is averaging 14.2 points per game on 43.1 percent and 41.2 percent from deep. It’s nice to see a person like Anderson have this kind of success. His last few seasons have been marred by injuries and personal tragedy.

With Anderson and Gordon surrounding James Harden this offense is seemingly impossible to stop. Your options are to collapse on Harden and allow him to dish the ball to a wide open shooter, or allow Harden to wreak havoc in the paint. Neither of those is a palatable option.

It just goes to show that if you can shoot Mike D’Antoni will find a place for you on his team.

Feb 1, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney (5) takes a breather during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 116-93. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 1, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney (5) takes a breather during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 116-93. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

I don’t anticipate this game going well for Atlanta. The Rockets can flat out score and offense isn’t Atlanta’s specialty. As Kris Willis from Peachtree Hoops noted today, their defense is also trending in the wrong direction.

Over the last five games the Hawks are allowing 119.2 points per game. Part of that is skewed due to the 139 points put up by the New York Knicks in Sunday’s four-overtime game in which Atlanta won. However, over that span of five games, the Hawks are offering little resistance at the defensive end.

Jan 23 loss to Clippers 115-105
Jan 25 win over Bulls 119-114
Jan 27 loss to Wizards 112-86
Jan 29 win over Knicks 142-139 4OT
Feb 1 loss to Heat 116-93

That’s troubling for a team that relies on their defense to win games. The exhaustion from this recent stretch won’t help matters. I expect the Rockets to win this game rather easily. On their best night Atlanta has what it takes to beat Houston, but tonight will not be that night.

Who: Atlanta Hawks (28-21) @ Houston Rockets (36-16) 

When: 8:00 PM EST, Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Where: Toyota Center 

How: TNT

Prediction: Rockets 109 Hawks 90 

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