The Atlanta Hawks grabbed a win (!) on Monday night over the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, but the task is far tougher on Wednesday, as they welcome the Chicago Bulls to town. On the surface, playing against a Bulls team that is anything but flashy, especially at home, doesn't set off alarm bells, but in short, Chicago has served as the number one nemesis for the Hawks in recent years, and no one is excited to see them on the other side of the floor.
For reference, the Bulls have won 14 of the last 18 meetings against the Hawks (including playoffs), and over their last 5 games, Chicago has swept Atlanta and done so in dominant fashion, winning by an average of over 16 points per game. Couple that with the fact that this edition of the Hawks isn't exactly playing lights-out basketball, having lost 20 of their last 27 games, and the recipe isn't terribly encouraging.
Still, the Hawks are relatively healthy for the first time in a while after welcoming Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll back to the lineup on Monday, and that is huge for this match-up. Chicago doesn't have the talent to overwhelm any opponent given the absence of Derrick Rose and the exile of Luol Deng, and they simply do their work with stingy defense and timely execution, which could be overridden with some of the positive offense that Atlanta has flashed at times.
Joakim Noah serves as the central figure for the Bulls, and keeping him under wraps will be the number one key here. Noah's stats (12 points, 11 rebounds per game) won't blow you away, but he is one of the best defensive players in the NBA, and more than that, Chicago has adjusted their offense to run much of their stuff through him in the high post. That has led to Noah dishing out more than 5 assists per game, and without the ideal match-up (cough, Al Horford) to slow him down, Mike Budenholzer will likely throw multiple bodies (Pero Antic, Paul Millsap, Elton Brand) at Noah to give him mixed looks.
Lastly, Atlanta is in desperate need of a win with regard to playoff positioning. The Hawks hold a 1-game lead over the Knicks in the standings (although it is a 2-game cushion in the loss column with some tie-breaker advantages), and with New York in a winnable home game against Brooklyn on Wednesday, there is a real possibility that the two teams could be tied Atlanta fails to hold serve at home. Stay tuned.
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, April 2, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM