A little (Wild) Turkey on Thanksgiving and a little Southern Comfort the day after sounds more than nice, as the Grizzlies and Hawks face off in their first of two games in the regular season.
So, how do the Hawks and Grizz stack up? Graham Chapple offers some insight when he answers five of my questions.
1. After a slow start to the season, the Hawks have ripped off six straight wins, are they hitting their stride?
There’s definitely an element of hitting their stride as well as finding their confidence. Some of it has been helped by a fairly kind schedule at home, but the latter — the confidence — we’ll really see on the road as they try make up ground in that department. They were slow starts for multiple notable Hawks, such as Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Huerter. These guys — and the bench in general — have found their way of late (those three I mentioned have been dealing with injuries since/before training camp/preseason) and their reversal of form been huge, because the Hawks’ bench was killing them early on.
2. While the Hawks are dominant at home, they are anything but that on the road, what’s to blame for this?
The road record really only reflects a really poor road trip where they lost all five games of a really tough road stint that saw them in Golden State, Utah and Phoenix to name a few, so their road woes are exaggerated somewhat, but not absolutely, since their bench and Capela were still struggling. The Hawks have been a strong home team under Nate McMillan but they’re certainly a better road team than their 2-8 record suggests: it mostly came from that rough road trip where they just couldn’t get over the line and they just needed to get home (where they won five games in a row at home). Memphis will prove a proper test in the Hawks dispelling some of that misfortune on the road and if this newfound momentum translates on the road. It’s a big game for the Hawks in that regard, they really want to do well on this road-trip after the last one was such a disaster.
3. These two teams can get up and down the court — top 10 in scoring and offensive rating — will defense be the key to victory?
It’s very possible defense will pave the way here but even if either team has an off-night shooting then defense may not even matter at that point if good looks are being missed. The Hawks have allowed a lot of offensive rebounds of late (dead last, comfortably, in the NBA over the last five games) so it might even come down to that area if neither defense shows up; extra possessions for the Grizzlies could decide it.
4. About a quarter of the way through the season, what’s your biggest takeaway from the Hawks?
My biggest takeaway from the early part of the Hawks’ season — something I think I referenced last time we chatted — is how important a healthy Clint Capela is to this team. Obviously Trae Young is the heartbeat of this team but, if the Hawks were a human body, Clint Capela would be the skeleton holding it together. When he’s not healthy, it doesn’t matter how many points Young scores, the Hawks really struggle from a team point of view and that was reflective in the in the Hawks’ 4-9 start (as well as the poor bench play). The early season stats with (an unhealthy) Capela on the floor were alarming compared to last season: he didn’t start the season healthy. It’s no coincidence the Hawks’ fortunes have changed with the uptick in Capela’s play as he has looked a lot healthier in the last seven or so games, as well as others finding form, but Capela is the big piece the Hawks needed to return to form.
5. Prediction Time: Both teams sit tied for 7th/8th in their conference right now; where will they be when they play again in March?
Despite that five game losing streak and the 4-9 start, the Hawks are only four games behind the 1-seeded Nets and two games behind the 2-seeded Miami, so their goals of home court advantage are still very much in their reach. I think, come March, the Hawks will be in the 5-seed looking to make a run for home-court advantage when they play the Grizzlies again.
A big thanks to Graham for answering my questions. Follow him @Graham_Chapple as well as @peachtreehoops for fantastic Hawks coverage.