The Atlanta Hawks will put a long and difficult summer behind them Monday night when they open their preseason schedule with a matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans at Philips Arena. Finally the focus will return to the on court product as the Hawks enter their second year under Mike Budenholzer and hope to build off last season's near upset of the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.
The team huddled together for the first three days of camp at the University of Georgia where defense has been the focus. Atlanta finished in the middle of the pack in defensive rating last season and allowed 101.5 points per game which was good for 15th in the league. Atlanta added a pair of wing defenders to the mix this offseason in Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore. The return of Al Horford from a torn pectoral muscle also figures to give the team a boost on the defensive end of the floor.
For now the Hawks are playing it safe with Horford and Bazemore who continue to recover from injuries. Neither has taken part in full contact practices yet and both have been ruled out for Monday's game. Atlanta will also be without center Pero Antic who suffered a broken nose in practice last week that required surgery. DeMarre Carroll left Saturday's practice with a sprained ankle and will have his status updated sometime on Monday.
Monday's game will be the debut for Sefolosha and rookie Adreian Payne in Hawks uniforms. Sefolosha signed a three-year deal with the Hawks this summer and will give them another wing defender to pair with Carroll on the perimeter. Atlanta drafted Payne with the 15th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft out of Michigan State. Teammates have raved about Payne's athleticism in practice and he could see some time at center Monday night with both Horford and Antic sidelined.
New Orleans comes into the season looking for added growth and a playoff spot in what figures to be a rugged Western Conference. The Pelicans won their preseason opener on Saturday defeating the Miami Heat 98-86 in Louisville. Jimmer Fredette led the way with 17 points off the bench while Luke Babbitt added 15. It was bombs away for New Orleans who finished 14-32 from three-point range. Anthony Davis and Omer Asik both started but did not play after the first quarter as Monty Williams wanted to limit both's minutes after busy summers in international competition.
Williams played 13 players on Saturday including forward Ryan Anderson who returned to action for the first time since undergoing neck surgery last April. Anderson played 14 minutes off the bench and finished with 12 points. The Pelicans will be without guard Tyreke Evans for up to five weeks due to an ankle injury.
The only way to see Monday's game is to be there in person as there will be no local radio or TV coverage. However, Peachtree Hoops will be there and you can follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook for updates.
Game Date/Time: Monday, October 6, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia