On Monday evening, the Atlanta Hawks caught a break.
Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden, who is considered to be a leading candidate for the 2014-2015 NBA MVP award, was given a one-game suspension that happens to coincide with Houston's only visit to Philips Arena this season. With the exception of Rockets fan who have circled this date on the calendar for months (I'm sorry) and NBATV executives who claimed this game as a national broadcast, no one should be crying any rivers for the opposition, but instead taking solace in what appears to be an easier opportunity to snatch a victory.
From a Hawks perspective, the home team enters on the strength of a four-game winning streak. It seems like an eternity (at least to me) since Atlanta triumphed over Miami with a shorthanded roster on Saturday evening. Still, Mike Budenholzer's club should be entering this contest a bit healthier, and against an opposition that is wounded from a roster standpoint, this becomes a spot where the Hawks are simply looking to hold serve.
Even without Harden, however, the Rockets could be dangerous. Harden and center Dwight Howard are clearly the best players on the roster for Kevin McHale, but the Rockets are still 41-18 and that does not come with just a one- or two-man show. Terrence Jones, who has averaged nearly 19 points and 11 rebounds in the last 10 days, could present a match-up problem for Paul Millsap and company up front, while a hopefully healthy DeMarre Carroll squares off with Trevor Ariza in an important wing battle.
It would certainly be misleading to characterize this game as anything but a mismatch in Atlanta's favor, and I won't attempt to do that. In the same breath, we can use Saturday night's game as an inverse example of what happens when the "more talented" team scuffles, and it would be encouraging to see the Hawks firing on all cylinders again after the day of rest in Miami. Stay tuned.
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, March 3, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM