Mired under the Joe Johnson albatross and shackled to his one-on-one style, the Hawks uber-athletic forwards were suffocating as a by-product of their supposed most dominant force. This year, with iso-Joe doing his thing in Brooklyn, Atlanta has surprised everyone with an early 3rd seed in the East. The Hawks haven’t played since Saturday, when Boston slapped a 33-9 3rd quarter on them and they failed to respond.
Hawks probable starting lineup:
PG Jeff Teague
SG Louis Williams
SF Kyle Korver
PF Josh Smith
C Al Horford
Those athletic forwards, Smith and Horford, are the subject of many trade talks. With hometown hero, Dwight Howard, seemingly always hanging in free agency, the two will continue to be.
The Hawks space the floor well, with 3 point shooters Korver, Williams and Anthony Morrow (expected to return after missing 5 games with a strained hip) — even DeShawn Stevenson at their disposal — the Wolves could use one (or three of them).
Iso-Joe’s departure cleared up more than enough space for Teague to flourish, and he’s responded with career highs in points, assists and steals (13, 7, and 1.6, respectively). Left at the side of the road, Devin Harris (expected to return after missing 5 games with a sore foot) has provided some nice minutes along side Teague, helping provide the multiple playmakers that have driven the Hawks to the 4th most assists per game and the 13th most total points.
Wolves probable starting lineup:
PG Luke Ridnour
SG Alexey Shved
SF Andrei Kirilenko
PF Dante Cunningham
C Nikola Pekovic
The Kevin Love-less Wolves should still be able to take care of the undersized Hawks on the boards — like most top Eastern Conference teams, the Hawks are amongst the worst rebounding in the league, at 24th.
Cunningham and Derrick Williams played alongside Kirilenko with the small backcourt of JJ Barea and Ridnour during their furious comeback against the Blazers. Not sure if there’s enough shooting with that lineup to get away with subbing in Ricky Rubio for one of those, but that brings us to the next point.
The Wolves have been (barely) treading water (at 4-6, over their last 10) with basically 3 functional guards in Ridnour, Shved and Barea. Rubio’s return this evening has all sorts of implications for the Wolves going forward. Given his struggles (save his debut against Dallas) to this point in his comeback journey, it’s a given: Rubio’s defense is going to continue to be ahead of his offense.
With all of the problems the Wolves had defending the 3 against Portland, is it conceivable Rubio’s defense could have helped contain Damian Lillard’s drive-and-kick 3s? Atlanta is 3rd in the league in 3 pointers made and 7th in accuracy — although their brand is more inside-out than Portland’s. I would argue Rubio’s perimeter defense will be a welcome wrinkle to Minnesota’s defense and his eventual 3 point-related contributions will come by his own penetrating and fostering better ball movement. Here’s luck.