Jan 19, 2013; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks Josh Smith (5) reacts to his team

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (17-20)@ Atlanta Hawks (22-18)

When the Wolves beat the Hawks 108-103 at Target Center January 8th, Josh Smith had 21 points (on 14 shots), 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in 38 minutes. He also had a crucial turnover (1 of his 4 of the game) in the final moments that helped seal the Wolves’ victory. Afterwards, head coach Larry Drew had this to say about his team’s sluggish play:

“There’s some guys in there that are going to have to be held accountable,” Drew said. “As we move forward, if this doesn’t change, there’s going to have to be some changes. That’s plain and simple. I’m not going to sit back and watch our guys come out and not be energized to play. That’s totally unacceptable.”

Not all of those words were necessarily directed towards Smith, but the coach’s message of accountability was sent. The Hawks have gone 2-8 over their last 10, and one of those wins occurred while Smith was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team” — over the Brooklyn Nets last Wednesday, who they then promptly lost to upon Smith’s return two nights later. It would seem the message was sent, not necessarily understood, a suspension handed down, and now?

Third-leading scorer Louis Williams is out for the remainder of the season after injuring his right knee Friday, and the Hawks are expected to be sellers on the market before the trade deadline — and Smith would undoubtably be their biggest ticket item.

Hawks probable starting lineup:

PG Jeff Teague

SG Kyle Korver

SF Josh Smith

PF Zaza Pachulia

C Al Horford

After the Williams injury, the Hawks went big against the Spurs with Pachulia, Horford and Smith up front. Devin Harris was moved from the starting lineup, promptly sprained his ankle, and is now considered day-to-day.

Horford was held out of the loss to the Nets to rest a leg injury of his own and has struggled recently, putting up only 12 points a game with 12 rebounds over the last 5 games.

It’s hard to pin the Hawks’ struggles on one player, but with the departure of (iso-)Joe Johnson, Smith and Teague were given a larger role in the Hawks offense this year, and while Teague is more or less delivering, putting up career highs in points (13), assists (6.6), shots made and attempted (5 and 12), Smith has regressed in every major statistical category: his lowest field goal percentage of his career (43%), his most 3-point attempts per game in his career (2.2) while shooting 30% from there, his points are 2 down from last year’s career-high (18.8), his rebounds are lower than they’ve been in four years (8.3), his steals are down — but I lied, his blocks are higher than they’ve been in 5 years (2.2).

All this is to say: it’s not working out for Josh Smith in Atlanta this year.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Ricky Rubio

SG Luke Ridnour

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Derrick Williams

C Greg Stiemsma

The last time the Wolves and Hawks met, Nikola Pekovic went bananas for 25 points and 18 rebounds, bulldozing Horford and anybody else who dared stand in his way. That won’t be an issue for Horford this time, as Pek is down for 7-10 days with his bruised thigh.

Stiemsma did an admirable job getting Houston’s Omer Asik in early foul trouble. What Stiemer doesn’t give the Wolves in rebounds, at least for one night, he made up for with just being a physical obstacle down low — along with contesting or blocking the occasional shot.

Of course, the revelation of the night was the two 10-day contractors, Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale. Each brought length and energy that bothered the Rockets on defense and got loose balls and rebounds for the Wolves, while they each seized on the opportunities they were presented with on offense. Ricky Rubio found Gelabale in the corner and Johnson on the pick-and-roll and both proved more than capable finishers in the fourth quarter against Houston.

The return of Rubio to the starting lineup has had a liberating feel for Ridnour. Relocated to the shooting guard spot, he’s shot 15-30 (duh, 50%) over the last two, gotten himself into a more comfortable mid-range to warm himself up, and then stretched himself to 3 — where he’s shooting 38% over the last 5. And while it’s true Ridnour was warming up before Rubio’s move into the starting lineup two games ago — his percentages are virtually identical for the entire year, but the number of attempts (and thus, makes) have increased from everywhere and perhaps being freed from his playmaking workload has liberated him to make passes like this, his only assist against the Rockets:


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