The last loss of the five game skid was against the Atlanta Hawks. It was a 17-point home loss for the Grizzlies to cap off a losing streak that included losses to Brooklyn and Dallas (two pretty not-so-good teams). They face Atlanta again on Thursday night, again and seek revenge on the road.
Atlanta has played well this season- they are basically the Eastern Conference’s version of the Grizzlies. Coming into this game versus Memphis the Hawks are 5-5 in their last ten and still trying to find themselves offensively. Sound familiar? Memphis is feeling the same way.
The Hawks are currently the 5th seed in the East with potential to grab the 4th seed and home court advantage in the first round. Both Memphis and Atlanta are fighting for playoff positioning and look to establish an identity before April.
Brad Rowland, an editor for Peachtree Hoops, joined me in today’s Five Questions preview of Thursday night’s game. (There may be a bonus question if you read all the way through.)
How have fans received the hometown hero, Dwight Howard, in his first season?
It has been pretty split in my experience. Personally, I didn't love the move when it happened and that goes for most of the Peachtree Hoops staff. There is certainly a segment of the fan base, though, that was very excited to have Howard in place of Al Horford, and they are happy. Dwight has been good as good as anyone rationally could have expected him to be and that helps, but the overall product this year versus last year is worse.
Current the Hawks sit at 4th in the East. What do you believe the ideal playoff match-up is for the ATL Hawks?
The best realistic option is probably Toronto. There's an argument for Boston but, given the uncertainty with Kyle Lowry and Toronto's spotty defense, the Hawks probably have the best chance in that series. As of now, there's even a chance that Atlanta could claim home court in that series, which would be nice.
What can the Hawks improve on heading into the playoffs?
General offense. This is a pretty good defensive team, with the caveat that they allow too many threes and that can bite them at times. Offensively, though, things are generally a mess, with an over-reliance on Dennis Schröder and Paul Millsap to bail them out of tough spots. The addition of Ersan Ilyasova and the emergence of Tim Hardaway Jr. helps, but ball movement, spacing and general aptitude have been issues on that end.
What are you looking forward to in the Dwight Howard/Marc Gasol battle?
I just love watching Gasol play. We missed that match-up on Saturday when the Hawks went to Memphis and I'm looking forward to it. Howard is often neutralized against teams that play smaller lineups and, while Gasol is awesome, he at least allows Dwight to stay on the floor without incident. Whether Howard can "win" the match-up is another thing entirely, but it'll be interesting to see how he fares against one of the best in the league at the position.
Both the Hawks and Grizz are in the top 10 in opponent's PPG, what do these teams have to do offensively to win this game?
The Hawks need to find the ball movement and spacing that allowed them to throttle the Grizz over the weekend in Memphis. Much of that is playing without Howard and playing smaller, but the Hawks have trouble bottling that kind of production up and they need to spread the floor against a team in Memphis that will grind you to a halt if you let them. It is a similar paradox for the Grizzlies and the Hawks can be vulnerable when the other team launches from deep.
Bonus: How do these small market teams (ATL/MEM) attract big name free agents moving forward?
The best way to do it is to grow a (very) good product before the big name ever arrives. As we've seen, that is incredibly difficult but, if everyone has salary cap space, the only thing that a small market team can do is differentiate itself by employing a ready-made roster of a contender and/or employing a high-end coach with real pull. It's tough.