I’ve always hated winning and losing in bunches; change needs to be balanced with consistency. Just like that, the team is 4-9 with 8 of the next 10 coming on the road. This team needs Bargnani and Bayless back at full capacity as soon as possible before it gets offensively ugly.

Bret Lagree from Hoopinion gave me his thoughts on a couple questions I had:

After that solid playoff run, and the hot start to the year, does losing Horford write-off the rest of the year; even if he gets back for the playoffs? Also, what’s the plan now, Zaza/trade?
Even without Horford, the Hawks should make the playoffs. His absence definitely diminishes the team’s chances of advancing in the post-season, but the team’s upside with Horford was the probably the second-round, yet again, anyway. His injury would have a had greater impact for a more ambitious, less risk-averse team.

I expect Zaza Pachulia will start (except when the Hawks play the Magic) and primarily split time at center with the undersized Ivan Johnson. Josh Smith might get some time as a nominal five in small lineups. It might work since Marvin Williams and Tracy McGrady (when healthy) are good rebounders for small forwards. If there’s a trade to be made, say Kirk Hinrich for a big man, the Hawks will surely consider it, but they might just as well off keeping Hinrich and doubling-down on perimeter defense.

McGrady’s renaissance has been a pleasant surprise after being brought in to replace some of the lost production from Crawford’s departure. He’s injured now, but can you see him being an important contributor to a team that can make deep playoff appearances?
McGrady was great for most of the first seven games but he’s already missed or been unable to contribute in six straight games since then. The Hawks can’t count on him every night, but he’s a difference-maker when healthy. They should do everything possible to have him available for the playoffs, regular season results be damned.

Are you guys regretting giving Joe Johnson that contract? Seems to me $20m should be able to buy you more than 18pts 4reb 4ast 16PER; is he an amnesty candidate if the Hawks aren’t contenders by next season?
Unfortunately, the only people who didn’t feel anticipatory regret for the Joe Johnson contract were those with the power to hand it to him. The organization has always overrated him on both ends of the floor and compounded that by assuming he’s not going to age. On the other hand, the amount the team has invested in Johnson ($75 million contract, $124 million contract, two first-round picks, Boris Diaw) has, at times, obscured that he’s been a pretty good player with the Hawks, even if he’ll do well to be an above-average player over the length of his current contract.

Injuries

Toronto
Aaron Gray
Jerryd Bayless
James Johnson
Andrea Bargnani

Atlanta
Al Horford
Tracy McGrady
Marvin Williams

Match-ups

Point Guard
You might be able to excuse Calderon’s performance against Rose all things considered. At least he somehow managed 8 assists. The Hawks don’t have the firepower at the point the Bulls do, but they are fairly deep; Kirk Hinrich is their 4th string quarterback. There is nothing about Jeff Teague, Jannero Pargo, some guy named Donald Sloan and Hinrich can do to scare me, but the Raptors are thin at the one. That said, the Hawks are great at sharing the ball, even with Josh Smith in the lineup, and that starts with the point.
Edge: Even

Shooting Guard
Joe Johnson is one of my man-crushes in the league, and even though he’s not producing anywhere close to what a $20m/year guy should be producing, he’s heads and shoulders better than DeRozan. He’s one of those guys who’s good at everything really. He defends, scores from all over the floor, rebounds, shares the ball and plays heavy minutes. To make matters worse for DeMar, who didn’t get to the foul line against the Bulls on Saturday, is that JJ wont be bailing him out with cheap fouls, since he has a low foul rate.
Edge: Atl

Small Forward
With Kleiza in the lineup, and if guys play within themselves, there’s no reason why the Raptors can’t be ok-to-good at the small forward. It all comes down to Butler and Johnson listening to me and not shooting the ball just because they have the room to let loose. The Hawks are great at the 3 either, but they are fairly deep with veteran savvy. Stackhouse is still alive and reasonably useful, while Radmanovic has found a home…doesn’t matter really…
Edge: Even

Power Forward
Looks like Bargnani is still out, which basically writes the game off. I find myself hoping the Raptors go small ball, and give Kleiza and Johnson (can’t believe I’m saying this) the bulk of the minutes at the four if Andrea can’t go. Davis needs Anthony Robbins or something…not sure, but what I do know is that Josh Smith will make him humble if he doesn’t come correct.
Edge: Atl

Center
The only exciting aspect of this match-up is being able to say Zaza with some flare. Amir/Magloire can probably keep their heads up in this one, but it doesn’t matter. The Raptors caught a break with Horford going down for 3-4 months with an injury, otherwise this would have gotten ugly, fast.
Edge: Even

Keys to the Game

  • Get to the foul line; as a team on Saturday against the Bulls, the Raptors went to the foul line seven times (made 1 of them); no wonder they were only able to muster 64 points. The Hawks have a few good defenders, so you have to get as many easy/cheap points as possible
  • Perimeter defense; the Hawks like to throw the ball around and stick jumpers. It kills them in the playoffs, but wins them games in the regular season. The Raptors have done a great job of giving teams nice looks from the perimeter; seems like a match made in heaven. need to tighten things up
  • Let Josh Smith shoot as much as he wants

The Line

The Hawks are at home and haven’t lost to the Raptors in over two years; there’s a reason they are 11 point favourites.

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