Hawks vs. Knicks Game Preview

Ben Ladner

To this point in the season, the Cavaliers have been the only Eastern-Conference team worse than the Hawks and Knicks, who will square off for the second time on Sunday afternoon. The two sides have won a total of 30 games – enough combined victories to sit in seventh place in the East – and have jostled for 29 place in offensive efficiency all season. They have both suffered 10-game losing streaks and profoundly dispiriting blowout losses to some of the league’s worst teams.

Atlanta took one of its worst defeats of the season when it visited Madison Square Garden on December 17, losing to the 6-21 Knicks by 23 points without any significant injuries to its core players and hitting the nadir of a 10-game losing streak. The Hawks never really gave much of an effort in that game while New York, despite a dearth of talent, looked as though it had something to play for. “We let a lot of things affect our effort,” Lloyd Pierce said after that game. “I keep talking about competitive spirit, trying to find that effort, and we don’t have it right now.”

Game Time: Sunday, February 9, 2020, 6:00 p.m. ET

Location: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA

TV: FOX Sports Southeast, MSG Network

Streaming: NBA League Pass, FOX Sports Go

The mood of Atlanta’s season has shifted since then, and as a result the Hawks have been more competent and consistent from one game to the next. Even in losses, the team’s effort level rarely flatlines the way it did in New York. An influx of talent has helped raise Atlanta’s level of play, and it should receive another boost now that the trade deadline has passed. Some of those reinforcements, however, may not come until after the All-Star break. The Hawks have been dealing with a carousel of injuries over the last two weeks, and after trades shook up the construction of the roster, it could be weeks until Pierce has his full, preferred rotation available.

On Sunday, the Hawks could be even thinner than they were Friday evening in Boston. As of this morning, Trae Young (ankle), DeAndre’ Bembry (hand), and De’Andre Hunter (ankle) are all questionable; Bruno Fernando (calf) and Treveon Graham (knee) are probable; Cam Reddish is doubtful while Clint Capela (heel) and Skal Labissière (knee) are both out. The Hawks have been able to survive with a withered frontcourt lately, but the Knicks are the rare team that can take advantage of an opponent’s lack of size. They rank seventh in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage and have no fewer than five power forwards on their roster.

The downside of all that force on the glass, though, is a crippling lack of spacing on offense. Only the Warriors and Magic have lower effective field goal percentages than New York, who ranks 27 in shooting accuracy at the rim and 28 in 3-point percentage (the latter figure is buoyed heavily by a 44 percent mark from Marcus Morris, who was traded to the Clippers on Thursday).

The Hawks can’t claim to be much better on offense. Their 105.6 offensive rating is a rounding error from tying New York for the league’s second-worst offense and they rank dead last in 3-point shooting. Atlanta compensates for that lack of shooting with a heavy emphasis on the rim, where they take 35.5 percent of their shots at shoot over 64 percent. The Knicks, meanwhile, prevent and contest shots at above-average levels. In their first meeting with Atlanta, New York grabbed 31 percent of available offensive rebounds and only allowed the Hawks to take 24 percent of their shots at the rim; the outcome of Friday’s game could depend heavily on how effectively the Knicks impose their size on the glass and at the basket.