Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
The Hawks finally get their season underway after a week long layoff between their final preseason game and their regular season opener. The opener got a little tougher with the Rockets' addition of James Harden, and the Hawks defensive preparations have made him their focus.
After an hour-long shootaround, a number of Hawks stopped by with the media to discuss tonight's game against the Rockets. As one could guess the general feeling surrounding the team is excitement, and the focus on defense is containing (because you don't stop) James Harden and the Rockets' pick-and-roll with good team defense.
"I'm excited to get started tonight. I think our guys are excited as well, they're a little tired of beating up on each other," said coach Larry Drew. "This should be a good game, Houston's a good team; they went into Detroit and played very well. James Harden is a heck-of-a player and we're gonna have our work cut out for us defensively."
As for how they will guard Harden, Drew laughed, "The best we can," before getting more serious. "No, he's really good. We have to just do a good job collectively. As I told the guys today, he won't be just one man's responsibility, we have to make sure we zero in and just be solid. We've worked on a lot of things over the preseason and particularly playing against guys like him, we have to stick with our concepts and our principles."
As for where he feels the team is entering the game, "Pretty much where I expect them to be by opening night. This was a long week and we had a chance to brush up on some things and a chance to introduce some things and overall I think our guys did a good job staying focused...Houston is a really good basketball team and will really give us a good chance to see where we stand as far as a measuring stick particularly defensively. You won't play against many guys as good or aggressive as James Harden."
"Watching those games prior to today definitely put a little bit more excitement and anticipation in my belly and I'm just ready to get it started," said Smoove. "It's still the same, because you have the summer to get prepared and you have a build-up process during training camp. The actual day gets here and it's not butterflies of nervousness it's just ready to be out there with your teammates and see where we're at as a team."
"It's just exciting," said Al. "For me it feels like my rookie year again with missing most of last season so I'm looking forward to tonight's game."
Horford will have a tough task on both ends of the floor going up against the 7-footer Omar Asik. Al gives up a couple inches and some pounds to Asik, but the focus is on the team defense to help individual mismatches inside and out.
"He's a great player, but one of the things Coach Drew has been harping on since the beginning of camp is our team defense. We know we're going to have to do it collectively as a unit. They have a lot of great individual players so we're going to have to make sure we stay together."
Devin Harris will see a lot of James Harden tonight, and he understands the task will be difficult.
"They're a talented group, they share the ball really well and they space the floor really well. They put a lot of pick-and-roll into what they do so we'll be challenged all night long. [Harden]'s one of those guys, you know. They say ‘force him right' because he's really good going left, but you just have to try and make him take tough shots and keep him out of the lane as much as possible and off the free throw line. Try to keep a body on him and we'll throw a lot of different guys at him."
DeShawn Stevenson will be one of the other guys that will be tasked with guarding Harden.
"He's very talented, he just signed his nice contract so his confidence is going to be up. We just gotta make him work, he's great in pick-and-rolls we just gotta be physical with him...They do a great job with pick-and-roll, pushing the ball, and getting open shots so gotta make it tough for [Harden and Lin]."
Pick-and-roll is always a major factor in NBA offenses, but the Rockets will utilize it more than most with the duo of Harden and Lin in the backcourt. They set extremely high screens (sometimes 3 feet beyond the 3 point line) to free space for their two guards to penetrate into the lane. Drew said the Rockets' pick-and-roll offense is a little different because, "they may run it more with Harden than they do with their actual point guard, and he's really good. We're going to have to be on the same page when we defend it." Guarding their pick-and-roll will be the main task of the Hawks defense and the guards and bigs will have to communicate a lot to be successful. The good news is, Harden almost always holds on to the ball on screens to try and penetrate so the Hawks team speed will be a big asset in cutting him off and also having the big men trapping and retreating back to Asik or the other roll-men.