After what was a crazy stretch of weather that resulted in a postponement of their game on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons, the Atlanta Hawks have touched down in the Northeast for a battle with the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night. The Hawks were last on the floor in a gut-wrenching loss to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, but with a few days to rest, this should be a focused team as they take the floor on the road.
Philadelphia has amassed a 15-31 record through 46 games, and while that is a great improvement over where some (including myself) had them pegged in the pre-season, the Sixers are still a struggling product on the court. Philly currently sports the 29th-best net rating in the league, allowing 8.4 points per 100 possessions more than they score, and their lackluster offense is the chief culprit. Former Ohio State stand-out Evan Turner leads the Sixers in scoring at more than 18 points per game, but he has issues with efficiency (43.9% FG, 29.1% 3-PT) and that runs throughout the roster.
The biggest challenge that Atlanta will face in this particular game is Philadelphia's rookie point guard, Michael Carter-Williams. "MCW" is the front-runner for the league's Rookie of the Year award this season, but the issue is much more about match-up concerns against a weakened Hawks backcourt in the potential absence of Jeff Teague. There has been no official word on Teague's status for the game, but even if he plays (and he did return to practice on Thursday), Carter-Williams stands at 6-foot-6 and presents big-time size issues for any member of the guard rotation from Teague to Shelvin Mack and Dennis Schroder.
Friday's game also serves as a return for Lou Williams, who spent the first 7 years of his NBA career in Philadelphia. This is just the 2nd appearance in Philly as a member of the opposition for Williams, and in the first meeting (on December 21, 2012), Lou struggled to a 4-for-12 shooting night in a 19-point road defeat for the Hawks. Depending on Teague's availability, this could be a high-impact showing for Williams, and because of his scoring ability, Mike Budenholzer could elect to go with Lou for extended minutes, especially coming off of a long period of rest.
In the front-court, Paul Millsap and company will be matching up with the strong combination of Georgia Tech's own Thaddeus Young and big man Spencer Hawes. Young and Hawes are far and away the most efficient players on the Philadelphia roster, and without Pero Antic available for the 4th straight game, the Hawks are short-handed and will be leaning heavily on another former 76er, Elton Brand, as well as Gustavo Ayon and Mike Scott.
This is the second battle between these two teams this season, and the Hawks were able to grab a 113-103 home win back on November 15th. The rosters line up quite differently from the first meeting, when the Hawks relied heavily on Al Horford and a career-high night from Jeff Teague and Philadelphia was without Michael Carter-Williams, but in any event, the Hawks are significantly better team from a roster standpoint (even without the big guns), and this should be an incredibly "winnable" spot on the road for Atlanta.
Game Date/Time: Friday, January 31, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM