Basketball is back.
The Atlanta Hawks are set to reopen their season following the All-Star break, and their opening salvo is a high-end tilt against the Toronto Raptors. As of game time, the Raptors are the Eastern Conference team in closest range to the Hawks, as they trail by only 6.5 games, and with that as the backdrop, there is a real buzz surrounding Friday night's contest at Philips Arena.
It seems like an eternity since the Hawks took the floor in Boston for what would become a brutal, last-second defeat, but Atlanta is still in fantastic shape with the aforementioned lead over Toronto in the East. Still, the Raptors actually own a 2-1 lead in the season series that they took with two early victories, and Toronto entered the break on the heels of a solid win over Washington on February 11.
From a match-up perspective, Jeff Teague and Kyle Lowry square off in a battle of Eastern Conference All-Stars and that is the pairing to watch. Teague has routinely upped his game against the best guards in the NBA this season, but in the same breath, Lowry's strength and bulldog mentality could give Atlanta's point guards trouble throughout the night, and the performance of both Teague and Dennis Schröder could be directly linked to the final result.
If there is a weakness for the Raptors, it comes on the defensive end. Toronto has posted a below-average defensive rating of 104.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, and against what has been a top-5 offense for Atlanta, that appears to be a favorable match-up. Both teams could battle rust issues that can emerge from not playing a game in nearly 10 days, but in their home building, the Hawks should have no trouble getting quality looks provided that they simply run their unselfish, movement-based offense.
Because of the long lay-off, this game may be a bit more unpredictable than a normal contest between these two clubs, but the Raptors are clearly capable of stealing a road win, so the Hawks must perform at a high level to feel "safe". Regardless, it will be nice to see this team in action again, and having a quality opponent ups the anticipation even more as tip-off approaches. Stay tuned.
Game Date/Time: Friday, February 20, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM