In a brutal playoff series, the upstart Atlanta Hawks eliminated the 1-seed Philadelphia 76ers. The self-proclaimed process was buried under an avalanche of threes from Hawks guard Kevin Huerter. What followed in Philadelphia was a summer rife with contention, trade talks, and holdouts. One of the pillars of their franchise, Ben Simmons, hasn't played since Game 7 back in June.
However, in October, the 76ers got a little bit of revenge when they dismantled the Hawks 122-94 in front of a raucous Philadelphia crowd. Since that time, both teams have treaded water around the .500 mark.
The good news for the 76ers is that Tyrese Maxey has excelled in his new starting point guard role. Maxey averages 17.5 points and 4.9 assists per game. He is the new robin to Joel Embiid's batman. The big man leads the team with 22 points and 10.9 points per game. However, Embiid missed 9 games due to COVID-19 in November.
General Manager Daryl Morey and head coach Doc Rivers constructed the roster to have shooters spaced out all over the court. So the team's success largely hinges upon Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Tobias Harris knocking down shots at a high clip, which they often do, putting the 76ers top-10 in offensive rating (109.7).
Like the 76ers (and most of the NBA), the Hawks game is predicated on an analytical approach that prioritizes three's and easy looks at the basket. During their six-game losing streak in November, the Hawks were nearly leading the league in midrange shot attempts. Their outside shooting has vastly improved since then, but unfortunately, the injury bug has sunk its teeth into the team.
Nevertheless, Trae Young is leading the team with 26.3 points and 9.1 assists per game. That's top-four in the league; no other player is that high in both categories. Meanwhile, Clint Capela and John Collins buoy the team with their phenomenal post play. Capela is third in the league with 12.4 rebounds per game. Collins quietly averages 16.5 points on an efficient 64.7 TS%.
The Hawks have the second-highest offensive rating in the league (112.4) and the second-highest three-point percentage (37.4%). When the offense plays with pace, they are a free-flowing and fun team to watch.
The 76ers are enjoying a healthy roster. Only Grant Riller (right shoulder strain) and Ben Simmons (personal) are out.
The Hawks injury report lists Cam Reddish (left wrist sprain) as questionable. Bogdan Bogdanovic (right ankle sprain), De'Andre Hunter (right wrist tendon surgery), Onyeka Okongwu (right shoulder injury recovery) remain out.
SI Sportsbook lists the Hawks as 1.5-point favorites. That's pretty bold given the Hawks being without so many key players. However, it must reflect the fact that Embiid is struggling to get back into rhythm after his illness.
State Farm Arena will be live tonight. There is no love lost between the Hawks and 76ers. Like Hawks legend and television analyst, Dominique Wilkins always says, "Rivalries are made in the playoffs." That axiom certainly holds true for these two teams. Another win for this short-handed Hawks team would significantly help them keep their head above water as they await the return of multiple players (and coaches).