After their first extended break of the season, the Atlanta Hawks return Wednesday night and will open a road back-to-back against the Dallas Mavericks. The Hawks just completed a stretch of four straight off days which was a welcome sight following what was a grueling November schedule. Things lighten up in December in terms of games played, but the quality of competition ramps up so Atlanta must be ready to meet the challenge.
The Hawks have battled consistency issues since the outset of the season and have gone 6-8 since starting the year 7-1. They have alternated wins and losses in each of their last 10 games. They appeared to be turning the corner last week when they scored an impressive win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Philips Arena. However, two nights later, they watched a big lead slip away in a fourth-quarter collapse in a loss to the Toronto Raptors. They came back on Friday to defeat the Lakers but once again saw a big late evaporate late before righting the ship to earn the victory.
Atlanta's inconsistencies can't be pinned on a single area. At times, they have struggled in all facets of the game. Mike Budenholzer continues to point to their play on the defensive end of the floor as the key saying that good defense leads to good offense.
They will emerge from the break to face a surprising Mavericks team who came into the season overlooked but are so far right in the middle of things in the Western Conference. Like Atlanta, Dallas has been a bit up and down of late going 5-5 over their last 10 but have won two straight including a 104-97 win in New York on Monday. The Mavericks knocked down 13 three-point attempts in the win over the Knicks. Atlanta's three-point defense has taken a hit of late and they rank in the bottom third of the league in opponent makes and percentages. They will have to do a better job of closing out to shooters in Wednesday's game if they hope to score a victory.
The game will feature some intriguing matchups across the board and most notably at the power forward position with Paul Millsap and Dirk Nowitzki. Millsap has done a bit of everything and been the one consistent performer for the Hawks this season. Nowitzki is having somewhat of a renaissance season at age 37 averaging a team-best 17.9 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Deron Williams has played well of late and former Hawks center Zaza Pachulia looks like Dallas' most important offseason acquisition so far.
It appears that Atlanta will be completely healthy for Wednesday's game. Reserve center Tiago Splitter returned to practice this week and is listed as "probable" on the team's injury report. Splitter had missed the last seven games due to a sore hip.
Wednesday's game will be nationally televised on ESPN and is set to tip at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, December 9, 9:30 p.m. ET
Location: American Airlines Center, Dallas Texas
TV: ESPN, Fox Sports Southeast
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM