"The Hawks have lost two out of three!"
"Atlanta has now suffered two consecutive road losses!"
"PANIC IN THE STREETS"
Two of the above statements were actually heard via different outlets in reaction to the Atlanta Hawks losing to the Denver Nuggets by a lopsided margin on Wednesday evening. I'll let you decide which one was fabricated.
In fairness, the Hawks looked about as bad as they have looked all season during the first three quarters in Denver, and that is a bit unsettling. Still, Atlanta ran into a buzzsaw with a Nuggets team that shot the lights out (hello, Jameer Nelson!) at times, and uneven showings happen on the road in the NBA.
The Hawks will now aim to rebound from that woeful performance, as they face the Phoenix Suns on Friday evening. Objectively, the Suns are a much better basketball team than the Nuggets, and that shows in the standings as Phoenix has been a borderline playoff-level team throughout the body of the season.
Still, the Suns appear to be slightly wounded in the aftermath of the decision to trade Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Miles Plumlee at the deadline, and Phoenix isn't an overly terrifying opponent. The Hawks have shown the propensity to bounce back in a big way following an embarrassing loss (as evidenced by Monday's evisceration of Sacramento), and you would have to surmise that Mike Budenholzer will have this team ready to play.
From a match-up perspective, the Suns are driven largely by the duo of Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris. Bledsoe was the last man standing from the trade deadline bloodbath, and he is an impact player on both ends while averaging 17.1 points, 6.0 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game this season. He is also a difficult physical match-up for Jeff Teague given his size and strength, and it will be interesting to see if Budenholzer deploys the two-PG lineup with Dennis Schröder (or Shelvin Mack if the German point guard is unable to play) to take the pressure off his starting point guard defensively.
Morris has been one of the breakout starts of the 2014-2015 season, as the twin forward has upped his scoring to 15.2 points per game this season. The system under Jeff Hornacek fits him perfectly, and Morris will ensure that Paul Millsap (or even Al Horford) has his hands full throughout.
With the schedule poised to get tougher at the end of this trip with visits to Golden State and Oklahoma City, Friday's game is one that the Hawks could use. There is no objective danger in the standings, but Atlanta does not want to be cratering as the stretch run arrives, and this is a spot where the Hawks are simply the better team regardless of venue, even with the potential absence of Mike Scott (toe strain) and/or Schröder.
Stay tuned throughout the day for updates, and be sure to join us in the game thread near game time.
Game Date/Time: Friday, March 13, 10:00 p.m. ET
Location: US Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM