Tonight, at 10:30 PM ET, the Atlanta Hawks will face off against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in a battle of the NBA’s two best records. Both the Hawks and the Warriors have 53 wins so far this season. Night in and night out, there is no doubt that these have been the best two teams in the NBA thus far. Though the matchup lost a little bit of its lust when it was announced Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson would not play, the game will still be entertaining, as both of these teams are deep and have other players to step in and contribute.
The Hawks and the Warriors have sort of mimicked each other this whole season. The Hawks started out the season pretty slow going 7-6 before starting to heat up. The Warriors came out of the gates flying. They started the season 21-2 and that included a 16 game win streak. The Hawks then heated up and went on a 19 game win streak of their own while the Warriors hit a few bumps. Since then both the Hawks and Warriors have continued to win consistently and exchange unexpected losses as well as the best record in the NBA.
The records are not the only similarities between the Hawks and the Warriors. Both teams play very much alike as well. They are unselfish and constantly give up good shots for great shots. Both teams feature two relatively young and up and coming basketball coaches. Steve Kerr and Mike Budenholzer are the leading candidates for the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award. Coach Budenholzer is in his second year with the Hawks and Coach Kerr is in his first year as Head Coach of the Warriors. The Hawks and the Warriors also feature two of the league’s best benches. The Warriors’ bench is well documented as it features stars such as Andre Iguodala and David Lee. The Hawks’ bench flies a little more under the radar, but that does not mean it is not one of the best in the NBA. Dennis Schroder leads the group and is starting to get major minutes late in games, even with Jeff Teague on the floor. However, the Hawks bench will be missing a few pieces in this matchup as both Mike Scott and Thabo Sefalosha are out with injuries.
These teams met up earlier this season on February 6th in Phillips Arena and the result was a 124-116 Hawks win. At the time, both these teams were at the top of the NBA and at full strength. Phillips Arena had a playoff atmosphere that night. The game was played with such fluidity and the ball was moved by both teams effortlessly. Golden State and Atlanta both rank in the top 6 in defensive efficiency. However, in the first matchup it was the two high powered offenses that took over. The teams combined for 59 assists and Atlanta shot an absurd 55.6% from behind the arc. It was a balanced scoring attack for the Hawks that led to them grabbing the lead in the second half and not looking back. The Hawks had seven players in double figures, including Mike Scott who had 17 big points off the bench. Klay Thompson, who will not be playing in the rematch, led the way for the Warriors with 29 points.
The second matchup between these two teams will be a little different. First it will be played in Oracle Arena, the home of the Warriors. The Warriors are league-best 30-2 at home and the games are usually not close. It seems every time the Warriors are at home Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson go off in the 4th quarter. The Warriors are the closest thing to unbeatable at home and the Hawks come into the game missing two huge pieces. Kyle Korver only averages around 12 points per game, but he provides so much more value than the stat sheet shows. His lights out shooting stroke spreads the floor and makes the game so much easier for his teammates. In a high flying shootout like I expect this game to be, Kyle Korver will be dearly missed. The Hawks also come in without back up Power Forward Mike Scott. Scott played a huge role in the last game between these two teams. He was efficient and made some huge three-point shots down the stretch to keep the Hawks in front. The change in venue and the fact that the Hawks are missing some serious fire power will make it very hard for the Hawks to pull out a victory.
With all that being said, I do believe the Hawks find a way to win on the road tonight. While the Warriors have the best record at home this season, the Hawks have the best record on the road at 23-10. The Warriors are also coming into the game lacking some serious fire power. All-Star Klay Thompson will be unavailable to play and it will be up to MVP candidate Stephen Curry to carry the load. While Curry has shown the ability to put the team on his back, I expect Coach Bud and the Hawks to find creative ways to stop him. The Hawks will be keying in on Curry early and often and it should be enough to get him out of rhythm. If the Hawks are able to force Curry out of his comfort zone in Thompson’s absence, they should be able to earn road victory number 24.