The Hawks had a nice break to soak in their 106-98 win over the Denver Nuggets that took place on Saturday. Second-year emerging star John Collins led the way with a career-high 30 points. He also collected 12 rebounds and 5 assists in the game. The win snapped a four-game losing streak for Atlanta.
Tonight, they head to Dallas to take on the surging Mavericks behind their Wonder Boy Luka Doncic. Obviously, Doncic was originally drafted by the Hawks and traded for the rights to Trae Young, making this an intriguing matchup every time these two teams meet for the foreseeable future.
They matched up for the first time in the Hawks home opener back on October 24th. Dallas jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter, but Atlanta was able to fight back over the next three, claiming a 111-104 victory behind a career night from Kent Bazemore. Ever since the two teams could not be more different.
The Hawks have lost 18 of their last 22 games, while the Mavs have rebounded from their 2-7 start. They have won 4 of their last 5 games and 11 of their last 14, good enough to earn them the 7th spot in the West.
That’s important because the Hawks collected the Mavericks 2019 first-round pick in the trade that sent Doncic to Dallas. The pick is top-5 protected, but the Hawks need the Mavs to finish in the lottery when all is said and done. A playoff appearance would not only result in a high pick, but it would also mean Doncic put together a pretty unforgettable year as a rookie.
The good news is the Western Conference is an absolute dogfight. Outside of the Suns, everybody thinks they have a right to one of those top eight spots, and they probably do. The Houston Rockets, who were arguably an injury away from a championship last season, are 12-14 and surely not guaranteed to be in the playoffs this season. Even teams like Sacramento and Memphis (and the Mavs) have made massive strides to become legitimate playoff contenders. That said, when you look at what’s going on behind Dallas in the standings- six playoff teams from last season- it’s hard to imagine them staying this course for the entire 82-game campaign.
As far as how that plays into tonight’s game, it at least serves as motivation for the Hawks to sweep the season series. For that to happen, they are going to need a monster night from their rising star, John Collins. It’s about time to start launching your John Collins is an All-Star campaigns, and if he continues to play as he has been, he just might get there.
The Wake Forest product missed the first fifteen games with an ankle injury. The Hawks took it very cautiously with him and eased him back into things under a minutes restriction. His last four games should show you why they didn’t want to take any risks:
Vs. OKC: 19 points, 11 rebounds
Vs. GS: 24 points, 11 rebounds
Vs. WSH: 26 points, 14 rebounds
Vs. DEN: 30 points, 12 rebounds
He’s also shooting 62.2% on the season. This is a player Hawks fans should be overly excited about- but if Atlanta’s going to win on the road- he’s going to need a lot of help.
Hopefully, that comes through Trae Young who has been in an extensive shooting slump that’s lasted over a month. In November, he shot 19.8% from three-point range and is an even worse 18.2% so far December. However, he has shown that he doesn’t need to have his shot to have a positive impact on the game. Young leads all rookies by miles in the assist category. When the Hawks are out in transition, and Young has the ball in his hands, that’s when they are at their best.
It will have to be that way to keep this one close, as the Mavs have been automatic in their building this year. They are 12-2 at home- outscoring opponents by 9.5 points per game- compared to 2-9 on the road. The Hawks, meanwhile, are 2-11 away from home this season.