Atlanta Hawks Game Preview: Feb. 6 Utah Jazz

The Atlanta Hawks go for their third straight win Monday night against the Utah Jazz. Can they defeat a difficult Western Conference opponent?

The Atlanta Hawks had a fairly successful Super Bowl week, much better than their bird brethren. They finished off a 3-1 week by defeating the Orlando Magic on Saturday night. They also beat the Knicks in a four overtime thriller, got blown out by the Miami Heat, and erased a 20-point fourth quarter deficit in a comeback win over the Houston Rockets. It was quite the week.

The schedule brings another tough opponent tonight. Paul Millsap‘s former team, the Utah Jazz, are in town, looking to leave Atlanta with another win. The Jazz were a sexy pick this summer when NBA bloggers were trying to determine a team that looked poised to “break out”. Their perfectly built roster was the talk of NBA Twitter, and for good reason.

Somehow the Jazz have lived up to expectations. This has been the breakout season many projected it to be. After some early season bumps in the road, they have asserted themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference (not named the Warriors or Spurs).

They are currently in 4th spot in the Western Conference with their sights set on chasing down the Houston Rockets. Their defense is what makes them so terrifying. They’ve locked down opponents on a regular basis this season.

Utah currently has the 3rd best defensive rating in the NBA, allowing just 104.3 points per 100 possessions. They allow their opponents to shoot just 43.5 percent from the field, best in the league. This defense is stingy.

The defense is led by their rim-protecting center Rudy Gobert. Gobert has had a breakout season on the offensive end and his defense remains as stellar as ever. The Stifle Tower is averaging 13 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game on 65.5 percent shooting. His All-Star game snub remains a mystery. He’s been dynamite this season and I’m not sure how anyone could think he isn’t worthy of an All-Star game selection.

Utah’s leading scorer is Gordon Hayward. Hayward has also taken a large step forward this season, becoming the player Utah imagined he would be when they matched his offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets during the summer of 2014.

Hayward is averaging 22 points per game on 46.4 percent shooting and 39.2 percent from three-point range. He’s a dynamic scorer and Atlanta will have a tough time slowing him down, especially with Thabo Sefolosha out of the lineup with a lingering groin injury.

One of the largest reasons they’ve had success this season has been the play of George Hill. The acquisition of Hill has finally brought stability to the point guard position. Hill has only played 27 games due to injury, but he’s putting up 17.5 points and 4 assists per game when he does play. He’s also shooting 41.1 percent from three-point distance.

Rodney Hood also has a scoring average in double figures, but he will miss tonight’s game with a bone contusion and knee sprain. That gives the Hawks one less perimeter scoring threat to worry about. Of course, old friend Joe Johnson can still get buckets when given the opportunity.

These teams have already played once this season. They met on Nov. 25 with Utah winning easily. Hayward scored 24 points that night to lead all scorers and Utah’s defense was absolutely suffocating. The Hawks shot just 31.3 percent from the floor and 32 percent from outside. Dennis Schroder was the only starter to score more than 15 points in the game.

Things have changed since then. I think it’s fair to say that both teams are better than they were in November, especially on the defensive end. That means tonight could be a defensive stranglehold with a low final score.

Utah is the better team when each roster is at full strength. They’re both slightly depleted tonight, but I still believe the Jazz will come away with the win. Gobert’s defense at the rim and the combination of Hill and Hayward on the perimeter will give them just enough to outlast the Hawks.

Who: Utah Jazz (32-19) @ Atlanta Hawks (30-21) 

When: 7:30 PM EST, Monday, February 6th, 2017

Where: Phillips Arena 

How: Fox Sports Southeast 

Prediction: Jazz 98 Hawks 93

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