Claudius: Raptors – Hawks Preview

Welcome to our first pre-game blog in awhile. I am going to break down the match-up, what to look for, key to victories and subsequently a prediction.

Atlanta is coming in really, really hot. Winners of their past 4 (4-0 in the month of January) and looked impressive with a blowout win in Utah and at home against the Pacers. With Joe Johnson back in the starting line-up Jamal Crawford has been able to go back to a more comfortable sixth man role for the Hawks where all he is being asked to do is score. Defensively, since Joe Johnson came back from injury in mid-December they have been holding opponents to 90 points per game and during the four game winning streak Johnson has averaged close to 28 points per game.

Along with Johnson, Al Horford has really stepped up his offensive game this year, with a better all around post up game and a developing mid-range game. For a guy who used to simply live down-low on put backs and garbage points, he is starting to embrace his role as on offensive player more and more. Since Marvin Williams got injured, Jason Collins has been getting the starts at Centre, moving Horford to Power Forward and Collins has played adequately enough, even producing speculation that Marv when healthy won?t return to the starting 5. Subsequently, Josh Smith has moved to play more Small Forward where he has become less of a defensive threat and more of an offensive threat by being able to shoot the 3 on a more consistent basis. Josh Smith during this winning streak has averaged 20 points per game and the last time he played against the Raptors he recorded a triple double with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

While mentioning the Hawks big three, you can not forget that while Bibby has been shopped around the past few weeks, he has been solid if unspectacular. His last game against the Pacers, Bibby hit 3 crucial 3 pointers to maintain leads and having ball handlers like Johnson, Crawford and Smith to a degree allow Bibby to focus on being spot up jump shooter and when defences collapse he is often the beneficiary. Considering that he seems to be a Raptor killer, he simply poses another threat in the Hawks line up and is the perfect 4th or 5th option on that team.

Toronto is coming into this game off a home win against a Sacramento team that was missing its best player. Andrea Bargnani continues to play well offensively and had 30 points against the Kings and DeMar DeRozan had 28. The story for Toronto will be can they hold Atlanta on the defensive end. Considering Toronto is allowing 105 points per game and during Atlanta’s winning streak they have been averaging 108 and coming off 3 days rest, Toronto cannot simply rely upon their offence but need their defence to produce the offence.

Some bright news for Toronto is that Sonny Weems practiced with the team yesterday and could be ready for Wednesday night. Some even better news is that this game could be postponed due to weather and allow Toronto to get even healthier with Jerryd Bayless and Reggie Evans both dealing with injuries.

My Keys to the Game:

1. Do not fall behind early in the first and third quarters. You can not let Atlanta get out to fast starts. Toronto has been somewhat prone to letting teams start off well in the first quarter. They are simply not good enough to come back from such large deficits. Keep the score close in the first and third quarters and try to overtake them with the bench. If we are down 31-20 at the end of the first and with Atlanta playing defence the way they have it is going to be a long night.

2. Attack Josh Smith. His presence to alter shots has allowed him to enter into the minds of the defender. But Smith is not the smartest player in the world. Get him to leave his feet, lean into him for the contact and get the easy foul. Sounds easy? Of course it is not. But you need to try. With Marv out, they do not have an adequate guy to really play the 3. Plus, the fewer minutes he is allowed to play, the less he is able to get comfortable offensively.

3. Ball movement. Do not settle for jumpers. Hell, do not settle for anything. Toronto plays its best when they are moving the ball around. Do not dribble with your head down and charge to the basket. Do not shoot any pull-up threes. Do not shoot 3s to keep the damn streak alive. I know it is against the entire run and gun philosophy but use the clock to your advantage. Make the opposition work on defence and with a team as athletic as Atlanta the last thing we really need to get into is a track meet. We looked fantastic against Dallas when we moved the ball and really slowed the game down. Atlanta struggles in the half court even with an improved Horford in the post.

So, there are my three keys. Again, do not let them get out quickly, attack Josh Smith and do not settle offensively.

Truth be told, I am not too optimistic about this game. Atlanta is surging and well, we are just there. We are not a good road team so I am not expecting too much. It could be entertaining though between teams that could put up points. Anyways, my prediction:

Atlanta –114
Toronto — 101

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