cavsraps
Toronto Raptors Atlanta Hawks January 12, 20110

The Raptors are looking to extend their home winning streak to 2 tonight against the Hawks. Just looking ahead, after tonight’s game, the Raptors have the Pistons at home before heading out on the road for a 5 game skid that will see them play Washington, New Orleans, San Antonio, Orland and the Heat. Based on past performances, this could be the start of a 7 game skid, but 2-5 seems more reasonable.

Add in the potential Melo trade involving the Nets and Pistons, and the stage is set for the Raptors descent into the bottom five of the league, which Franchise from Raptors HQ claims wouldn’t be a bad thing. I’m not one for tanking, but they might not need too if this trade goes through (the Nets/Pistons will win more games with upgraded rosters, and clarity of roles in the Pistons case).

The last time these guys played, the Hawks rather easily handed the Raptors a loss by moving the ball around masterfully and attacking in the paint with their bigs. With the Hawks playing much better since and having refined their offensive sets, which rely much less on iso-plays, things could be much worse for the short-handed-injury-plagued Raptors. Hopefully memories of an embarrassing 11-point 3rd quarter will fuel the fire for retribution.

I briefly spoke to Bret Lagree from Hoopinion about the Hawks and tonights game:

From what I’ve seen/heard, seems like this team likes to play together and are very supportive of one-another. What’s been the driving force of the camaraderie, and who’s the glue guy?
Al Horford is an extremely efficient offensive player and essential to the team defensive concept. The Hawks are at their best when Joe Johnson and/or Jamal Crawford are making jump shots but Horford is the constant, two-way presence.

How do you feel about the trade rumour of Jose Calderon + a big to the Hawks + a big? Who would be included from Atlanta’s side, and who would you want in return?
I can’t see the Hawks exacerbating their cap hell, burying Jeff Teague deeper, and failing to improve their perimeter defense in one fell swoop by acquiring Calderon. That might just be wishful thinking on my part.

Josh Smith seems fully capable of putting up 20/10 consistently, what’s been keeping him from doing that?
A desire to shoot jump shots, the team’s willingness to indulge that, and a constant need for Smith to challenge opponents’ field goal attempts as a help defender.

19pts 4rebs 5ast wasn’t exactly what the powers that be had in mind when they handed Joe Johnson that massive contract. It makes it hard to offer Crawford a reasonable contract to keep him as the spark-plug off the bench. What’s going to happen to him?
Given that Johnson missed two weeks, played hurt (and had it affect his production) much of the season, and the Hawks are just one game off last season’s pace, its hard to say that not signing him would have hurt the Hawks seriously in the short term and it obviously would have increased their cap flexibility in the future.

With Jamal Crawford (younger, can score, but doesn’t have the all around game) available, how badly would it have hurt the Hawks if they didn’t resign him, or pulled off a trade (possibly to the Knicks) with him as a principle?
I think there’s a decent chance he comes back to the Hawks on a multi-year deal for much less money per season. There isn’t a huge market for him and the Hawks love to re-sign their free agents. I think it’s better than 50-50 that they bring back Damien Wilkins and Jason Collins next season, too.

The Hawks have done very well against the Raptors, handing them some of the toughest losses they’ve endured over the last couple of season. What will be strategy heading into the game tonight?
If the Hawks simply run their offense, they can outscore the Raptors at least 9 times out of 10. I expect the Hawks to attack whatever match-up advantage they have on a given possession, either scoring quickly or swinging the ball around the perimeter for an open jump shot. It’ll be the good kind of isolation basketball.

Injury Report

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Peja Stojakovic – Out
Sonny Weems – Day to day
Jose Calderon – Day to day
Jerry Bayless – Day to day

Atlanta
The whole team is healthy

Match-ups

Point Guard
Not sure that Bibby is an upgrade over Jose on perimeter defense, but I’ll digress. What we can agree is that Bibby has always seemed to get up to play against the Raptors; he hasn’t been lighting it up like he used too, but he did go 3-4 from beyond the arc the last time these cats played against each other. On the season, he’s shooting 49.1% from behind the arc, that’s good for second in the league and a career high. Bibby is still moving the ball around rather well, leading the Hawks to 5th in the league in assists. Their ball movement scares me, as the Raptors haven’t been the best at defensive rotations and closing out on shooters.

With the Raptors giving up so many good looks from the perimeter lately, Bibby can follow up his solid play against the Pacers (4-6 from beyond the arc) after 3 fairly brutal games in a row. Defending Bibby shouldn’t be so difficult: don’t leave him to help, and force him to put it on the floor. He’s basically there to shoot the ball and swing it to the open man; take that away and he’s got nothing. Calderon on the other hand…what more can we expect from him? He doesn’t practice between games because his feet are mangled, but has been able to increase his points and assists every month since the start of the season. You have to figure the foot injury is going to get worse, so the Raptors might be better served to sit him against teams like the Hawks where a win is a far-far-gone conclusion.
Edge: Even

Shooting Guard
Call it what you want, but you can’t deny that DeRozan’s improvement couldn’t have come at a better time. Not sure what the turning point was, but we know that since putting up a lame 10pt performance in a loss to the Pistons on December 22nd, DeRozan has averaged 22.1pts since. We’re going to need every single one of those points tonight against the 8th ranked defense in the league.

A testament to this Hawks team is how quietly they were able to weather the storm of Joe Johnson’s injury, going 5-4 through the stretch while not conceding much ground against the Magic for 4th in the East (and actually beating the Magic 80-74 during his absence). Makes it much easier when you have a motivated Jamal Crawford, the owner of something in the vicinity of 31 4-point plays, who can carry the scoring load quite nicely and is in a contract year.

While Johnson has played well, but never really abused the Raptors over the years, Crawford has drank our milkshake every time he’s played us dating back to the Chicago years. Tempting Crawford to drive, and forcing him into a help defender, is the only chance of slowing him down. Much like DeRozan, the guy is a one-trick pony who’s major contribution is scoring. Unlike DeRozan (up until recently at least), his contribution is much more devastating. Johnson on the other hand contributes across the board and poses a much bigger problem if allowed to operate freely.

Like Bret said, the Hawks will be able to run their offense and sofa on the Raptors 9 times out of 10, and unless either/both these guys has an off game, i got nothing to offer in terms of a ours of action; hopefully DeRozan drops 31 and gets the line in 8-10 attempt range if he has any designs on countering these two.
Edge: Atlanta

Small Forward
Josh Smith’s scoring and rebounding has been impacted by his need to play help defense and block shots; if only we were so lucky as Raptor fans. Sure he shoots too much for a man of his ability, but he does so much else, you can almost forgive him.

This is where things get quite interesting in terms of match-ups and such. The Hawks have Josh Smith at the 3, and can quite easily shift him over to the 4 at will. He’s bigger, stronger, faster, taller than Kleiza, and with Amir among the walking wounded, can really affect both match-ups in Atlanta’s favour.

The size advantage Kleiza’s been enjoying on the offensive glass won’t be there tonight with the Hawks front court, who rebound very well on the defensive glass. Best bet will be to get hot from the perimeter and keep Josh out of the paint/lane to hopefully free up space for DeRozan and Bargnani to operate. I can live with Josh scoring on jumpers rather than getting into the lane and off the glass; this screams for someone of Julian Wright’s ability and mind-set…
Edge: Atlanta

Power Forward
The toll that Amir Johnson’s body has been put through since Reggie’s gone down has been staggering. He’s basically battling in the paint, on both ends of the floor, alone. Better yet, he’s been doing it recently with noticeable pain. Ed Davis, while improving, isn’t ready for major minutes yet, but is doing what he can. Frankly, he’s been doing a good job considering. I imagine we can expect more of the same tonight against Horford; a guy I would trade Bargnani for in a second. Not hating, just that I prefer well rounded players.

If Jason Collins (yes, he’s still in the league) can’t cover Bargnani, expect a switch with Horford and Collins. Actually, the best hope the Raptors have match-up wise is shifting Horford to 5, Smith to 4 and playing Maurice Evans or Marvin Williams at the 3 where Kleiza can flex his stuff a bit more.
Edge: Atlanta

Center
For some reason, Collins has seen a resurgence of sorts with the  Hawks and is getting some play. Can’t imagine why considering he’s mostly 6 fouls to throw at somebody. Regardless, I think we can all agree that Bargnani will abuse him if he’s covering the Italian. If Horford shifts over, we can also agree that Bargnani has the size/strength/speed to battle Al, but the match-up will ultimately be decided by Bargnani’s ability to battle on the boards and do the dirty work. Horford will be out of his comfort zone on defense coming out so far to defend Andrea, that I kind of like both match-ups considering how sweet he’s shooting the ball lately. It’s going to take a big night by Andrea if the Raptors hope to stay competitive and be in a position to steal one at home.
Edge: Toronto

The Line

The gamblers have the Hawks as 4.5 point favourites with an over/under of 205.5. This game has all the makings of a game that can get out of hand quickly, especially with the Raptors so banged up. My concerns are really on the Raptors ability to create quality scoring opportunities for themselves. While the Hawks are an athletic bunch, I like the Raptors chances in a faster tempo game. Since the Hawks are 26th in the league in pace, going all helter-skelter could keep the Hawks from getting into sets and sharing the ball more efficiently.