Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  December 8, 2006

The Reverse Ewing. Most of you are probably familiar with ESPN.com’s Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons, who coined the phrase “the Ewing theory” for when a team overachieves without its star. He based it on those Riley-coached Knicks of the 90s, who had some good games sans Ewing. And while the evidence is anecdotal, I think we’ve all seen teams for a short while rise up and play well with their star out, the Lakers did it the first few games of this season.

Others have suggested it but I agree, part what I think happened to the Lakers against the Hornets was the “reverse Ewing” — Kobe wasn’t expected to play but then decided to, and the team saw him on the court and the Hornets without three starters and just relaxed.

We’ll see if they can bounce back tonight.

Kobe is expected to play. However, his ankle was more swollen on Thursday than before the last game.

Suggested reading. Got a couple of links sent to me you may want to check out. Over at 3-man lift they have listed the top shooting guards in the NBA right now (shockingly, a Laker made that list). Then there is the new blog Bandwagon LA which is higher on this year’s Lakers than I, but he makes a great point about why this is a fun team to root for:

And it’s because these are OUR guys. Not a bunch of hired guns and accomplished transplants. The core of this team are known as Lakers or not at all. Think about it. We have four draft picks making solid contributions in Luke, Bynum, Farmar, and Turiaf and two more getting decent minutes in Sasha and Cook (when he’s not battling vertigo… man, 6’9″ with vertigo…). Also, we have two starters who were essentially NBA castoffs before they arrived in L.A. in Smush and Kwame; for Smush, I’d go so far as to say he was in the NBA dog pound waiting to be put down before we adopted him and gave him a home.

That would be your sixth-seed Atlanta Hawks. Sure they are 8-9 and in the East that’s still 1.5 games ahead of the 9 seed, but did you really think the Hawks would be this good?

Leading the way is a guy I thought was overpaid but is proving to be a good pick up: Joe Johnson. He’s shooting 56.7% (eFG%) and 39% from beyond the arc. Normally I’d say put Kobe on him, but with the bum ankle that will not work, so it will be interesting to see what Phil chooses to do (Odom? Extra minutes for Mo Evans? Smush?).

Curse of the underachieving former Laker point guards.
Last game it was Pargo having us all saying, “wait, he’s not that good” and with the Hawks that role falls to Tyronn Lue. Lue has a PER of 18.14, and is averaging 19.8 points and 5.2 assists per 40 minutes. He’s the Hawks second scoring option right now. If he can keep that up he’ll be proving me wrong, too.

Lue, however, is not a great defender (Laker fans often remember that wrong because he had the one good series against Iverson in the NBA Finals), opponents are averaging a PER of 19.8 against him. So, this is a night Smush should step up.

Vegas, baby. I am out of town for the next few days, in Vegas visiting the in-laws (trust me, not that much fun, having in-laws in Vegas turns the town into Fresno because you don’t get to go near the casinos). The good news is I’ll be watching the San Antonio game Sunday on their new 60-inch high-def plasma television, although I’m not sure I want to see what Smush looks like up close on that thing.

While I’m away the site will be in the more than capable hands of Gatinho.

Things to look for:
The Hawks mirror the Hornets in that they are not a very good offensive team (24th in the league in offensive efficiency) but they play decent defense. The Lakers need to play better defense to keep the Hawks down and not let them up.

The good news, the two positions the Hawks have struggled to defend the most this year are shooting guard and power forward. So, the Laker big guns should be able to have a big game.

Josh Smith is having an off year, shooting just 25.2% (eFG%) on jump shots and 41.9% overall and is turning the ball over on 15.7% of his possessions, He is, however, athletic and if you let him lose inside can be a force. So, it’s pretty simple, make sure he is shooting jumpers and pressure him defensively.

Josh Childress has been out with a hairline fracture in his foot and Speedy Claxton’s knee has forced him to sit, but Marvin Williams has been cleared to play his first game of the season against the Lakers.

He comes off the bench, but Salim Stoudamire appears to be a spark plug for this team and plays a lot of minutes. The good news is he is turning the ball over on 8.8% of his possessions, so the Lakers should try to pressure him defensively.

The Hawks are coming off a thrilling come-from-behind win against the Nuggets and are feeling pretty good about themselves. The Lakers, if they play like they did against the Hornets, will lose this one too. Hopefully Phil lit a fire under the team – or better yet they did it themselves – and will come out and secure the win.


Kurt

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