Atlanta Hawks Game Preview: Jan. 7 Dallas Mavericks

You may not have noticed because of all of the trade rumors, but the Atlanta Hawks are currently on a five game winning streak. Can they make it six games against the Dallas Mavericks?

I’m pretty sure the Atlanta Hawks roster hasn’t changed since they waived Ryan Kelly. Ask me again at game-time, things are fluid. In case you missed it, the Hawks have won five games in a row. Their record is now 20-16, and they’re currently the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Things are looking up on the court, but that won’t stop the rebuild. Nevertheless, the Hawks that remain will try to and stretch this winning streak to six games. They’ll attempt to do so against the Dallas Mavericks.

There are few teams in the NBA you’d want to play more than Dallas if you’re trying to extend a winning streak. The Mavericks have not been very good this season. They enter this game with an 11-25 record, tied for last in the Western Conference with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Still, the Hawks have shown they can lose to teams that are worse than them this season. They have’t played Dallas this season, so we don’t have any previous match-ups to draw some conclusions from.

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that the Mavericks are bad on both offense and defense. Weird, right? They score 104 points per 100 possessions, bad enough to be the 25th ranked offense in the NBA. On defense, they’re ranked 22nd best, allowing 109.6 points per 100 possessions.

The Mavs rank 29th overall in field goal percentage (43.1 percent), 21st in efficiency from behind the arc (34.9 percent), and 30th in rebounds per game (38..4). There’s not a lot to like here.

One positive has been the play of Harrison Barnes. Dallas signed the former Warrior to a four-year, $94 million deal last summer. He’s easily been their best player. Barnes is averaging 20.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 33.6 percent from three-point range.

The Mavericks are very bad, but it’s still clear that Barnes has the ability to be a number one option on offense. Once the team is able to surround him with more talent, they’ll be in good shape. He’ll live up to that contract, especially if the salary cap continues to grow. Thabo Sefolosha‘s job Saturday night will be to keep Barnes in check.

Other than Barnes, it’s tough to find too many frightening offensive weapons on this roster. Wesley Matthews is having a nice season from three-point range, he’s scoring 15.5 points per game on 37.5 percent from long distance. His overall field goal percentage is a little troubling, at 38.9 percent. Matthews hasn’t been the same player since his Achilles injury.

Then there’s old reliable. Dirk Nowitzki is still in Dallas, at age 38. His career may be drawing to a close. He’s only played 11 games due to injury this season. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 37.4 percent shooting and 32.6 percent on three-point attempts. It can be difficult to watch, at times. What this team really needs is to bottom out and enter full “tank-mode”. Mark Cuban seems reluctant to do that.

Atlanta’s defense has clamped down lately. Their defensive rating is up to 5th best in the NBA, allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions. In their last game, they held New Orleans to 36.6 percent shooting. The big man in the middle has been a large part of their stingy defense.

Dwight Howard has been sensational since he returned from injury. He may not be the superstar he once was, but he has developed into an ideal role player. In his last seven games, Howard is averaging 12.4 points and 14.6 rebounds per game. His PER for the season is 22.53 and his defensive real plus/minus is plus 2.45. His rim protection is the glue that holds this defense together. He and Paul Millsap are one of the top defensive front-court tandems in the NBA.

The projections from numberFire give the Hawks a 54.38 percent chance of winning. If you look at their individual projections, you’ll see why. As I noted earlier, Harrison Barnes does not have much help in the scoring department.

Each Hawks game from now until Feb. 23 takes on a greater significance. Every game could be the last game Tim Hardaway Jr., Thabo Sefolosha, and most notably, Paul Millsap, play in a Hawks uniform. The trade of Kyle Korver signals a rebuild They may not be tearing things down completely, but a new era of Hawks basketball will soon be upon us.

So, enjoy watching what is left of this team as they go for six wins in a row.

Who: Atlanta Hawks (20-16) @ Dallas Mavericks (11-25)

When: 8:30 PM EST, Saturday, January 7th, 2017

Where: American Airlines Center 

How: FOX Sports Southeast 

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