Team Records: Portland (8-5) at Atlanta (10-4)
Game Info: 5 p.m., TV on ESPN/CSNNW, Online on ESPN3, Radio on 750 the Game
Vegas Line: Atlanta -1.5
Refs: Greg Willard, Eric Dalen, Leon Wood.
The Skinny: After ending their three game losing streak Monday afternoon in New Orleans, the Blazers look to make it two in a row in Atlanta against the surging Hawks. Atlanta has won six of their last seven and although only one (a home win over Chicago) was against a likely playoff team, they seem to have recovered reasonably well from Al Horford’s likely season-ending injury. This game will mark Jamal Crawford’s return to Atlanta, the team for which he played the best ball of his career.
Last season: The Hawks swept the season series 2-0. The Hawks have won five straight against Portland. The all-time series between the two teams is tied at 49 wins apiece.
Projected Hawks Lineup:
PF: Josh Smith (Oak Hill Academy (HS), 8th season) – 17 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3 APG
SF: Marvin Williams (North Carolina, 7th season) – 10.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.2 APG
C: Jason Collins (Stanford, 11th season) – .6 PPG, 1.1 RPG, .3 APG
SG: Joe Johnson (Arkansas, 11th season) – 18.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.9 APG
PG: Jeff Teague (Wake Forest, 3rd season) – 12.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 5.9 APG
Player to Watch: Josh Smith (pictured at right) – For years NBA scouts have been saying that Josh Smith had the potential to be great if only he could get his head in the game. It appears as if he finally has done just that the past few seasons, as he has erased many of the mental lapses that dogged his early career. A strong post scorer and defender, Smith is a strong presence on both ends of the court. He is an excellent shot blocker, and if you let him get in the open court, he will make you look silly. Where Smith still falters is in his tendency to take outside shots, which he is not particularly good at, as well as a few defensive lapses, albeit not nearly as many as he once had. He will be someone the Blazers have to contain if they want to win in Atlanta.
Did You Know?: Atlanta’s roster is an average 29 years, 77 days old, making it the second oldest in the NBA behind only Dallas.
Portland: Out – C Greg Oden (knee); Doubtful – C Marcus Camby (ankle)
Atlanta: Out – PG Kirk Hinrich (shoulder), C Al Horford (pectoral tear)
To look at Atlanta’s roster is to scratch your head and wonder how a GM, outside of David Kahn, could have assembled such a seemingly randomly collection of talent. Atlanta has a few stars in Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, a few castaway veterans such as Jason Collins and Willie Green, a player looking for one last shot in Tracy McGrady, and a motley crew of others. Atlanta is a slow-paced offensive team that pushes the ball inside when they are playing well but too often falls back on long jumpers. They rely heavily on Joe Johnson and Josh Smith to produce the bulk of their offense and count on players like Marvin Williams and ex-Oregon Duck Ivan Johnson to get hot and carry the rest of the load. On defense, the Hawks look to force turnovers and make you slow down your offense and take contested shots. Without Horford, they are vulnerable inside, so teams have to attack there if they want to beat Atlanta.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They attack inside. Josh Smith is a good interior defender, but he is pretty much all the Hawks have. The Blazers should be able to exploit this advantage and make it easier for themselves on offense than has been the case in recent games.
Atlanta wins if: They win points in the paint. If Atlanta is attacking inside successfully, they usually win. If they can win points in the paint, they will be able to win their sixth straight over the Blazers.