After a rough stretch that never seemed to end, it seems almost odd that the Atlanta Hawks are scorching hot, but that is where we are as the team hosts the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night. The Hawks have won a season-high five consecutive games, and while the schedule has been undeniably favorable, that stretch did include an incredibly positive win over Toronto on Tuesday, as well as a solid road win against the playoff-bound Bobcats.
The Pelicans present some unique challenges, though, despite their somewhat ugly win-loss record. New Orleans has one of the best young players in all of the NBA in Anthony Davis, and while he is somewhat of a question mark to play in the game after missing their last tilt with illness (although he did practice on Thursday), Davis forces all kinds of match-up concerns for the Atlanta front line. Because of his length and skill level (as evidenced by his 20-10 averages this season), it is a safe bet that Mike Budenholzer would throw multiple looks at him, but expect Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, and even Pero Antic to take turns in attempting to slow him down.
From the Hawks standpoint, there are also some favorable things about this opponent. Even with the terrorizing Davis on the roster, the Pelicans are in the bottom-5 of the league on the defensive end (allowing more than 107 points per 100 possessions), and that should provide some freedom of movement for Atlanta, who still leads the league in assists per game at over 25 per contest. Jeff Teague had arguably his best game of the season against Toronto, and he could follow that up with a strong night here, especially given the problems that New Orleans has faced without Jrue Holiday in the lineup due to injury.
The Pelicans have a considerable amount of talent on their roster, but with guys like Ryan Anderson and the aforementioned Holiday out of the lineup for the remainder of the year, it is certainly a group that should be handled by the Hawks at home. If Davis can return to the lineup (and he likely will), New Orleans could still pose some issues given that he is that explosive in his own right, but without him, the Pelicans resemble even the East's bottom feeders, and that should set the stage for a very winnable game to extend the streak.
Game Date/Time: Friday, March 21, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM