After a gutting, blowout defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, there is no rest or "break" for the Atlanta Hawks, as they get set to take on the Portland Trail Blazers on a back-to-back on Thursday night in Atlanta. The 24-point demolition in Minnesota serves as the fourth consecutive loss for the Hawks, and more importantly, the defeat allowed the New York Knicks to climb within 2 games of Atlanta for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Thursday night's action has a very interesting twist to it, and that wrinkle centers around whether Portland's best player, LaMarcus Aldridge, will be able to suit up. The All-Star power forward has missed Portland's last 7 games as a result of a back injury (sound familiar?), and the Blazers enter Thursday having lost their last three straight as a result. Reports have swirled that Aldridge could be available for the game, and if he is, Paul Millsap and company will have their hands full up front.
Even aside from Aldridge, though, the Hawks have a difficult task ahead of them. Atlanta is now 1-7 on the season without Kyle Korver in the lineup, and there is no guarantee that the league's top shooter will be available with his own back issue. On the bright side, the Portland defense has been somewhat suspect over the last couple of months, but after a turnover bonanza on Wednesday, it would be difficult to project anything in the way of efficient offense, no matter the opponent.
The point guard spot represents the "match-up to watch" in this game, as Jeff Teague will be forced to deal with big-time scorer Damian Lillard. The 2nd-year guard from Weber State is averaging 21.1 points and 5.6 assists per game this season, and he personifies a unique blend of ball-handling with a top-tier jumper that has seen him knock down 38.5% on 6.9 3-point attempts per game. Teague is coming off of a complete flop in which he went scoreless on Wednesday, but the competition level certainly doesn't soften here.
With a trip to Washington looming on Saturday, Thursday's match-up with the Blazers looks to be one that the Hawks simply can't afford to lose in their current state. It would be highly encouraging if Kyle Korver was able to go, but if he can't, the rest of the team will be called upon to step up, and hopefully, Mike Budenholzer and company can piece together a victory.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM