Hawks vs. Nets Game Preview

Ben Ladner

Lloyd Pierce hesitated to call Monday’s victory over the Warriors a momentum-building win – after all, Golden State is currently the worst team in the NBA, and had neither the talent nor the execution to compete with even a young and shorthanded Hawks team. But simply being back in the win column is a momentum swing in itself. Atlanta’s locker room was filled Monday night with an exuberance it hadn’t had in over a month. Regardless of where the season goes from here, the team can at least enter its next game with a weight off of its back. “We have another game here Wednesday and it will be good to have that type of spirit and momentum going into that game,” Lloyd Pierce said after the win.

Though the Brooklyn Nets won’t roll over as easily as the Warriors did, they are a beatable opponent for Atlanta, who will look to win consecutive games for the first time since the start of the season. Despite a splashy offseason, the Nets have been mediocre through their first 20 games. With a 10-10 record, they rank 17 in the NBA in net rating with neither an explosive offense nor a remarkable defense. Much of that is due to the fact that Kevin Durant, who ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in last season’s NBA Finals, likely won’t play this season. Kyrie Irving, the team’s other prized offseason acquisition, has missed the last nine games with a right shoulder impingement. But even in a very limited sample of games, the Nets have been no worse with Irving off the floor.

In Irving’s absence, Spencer Dinwiddie has stepped into a more prominent role and carried Brooklyn’s offense just enough to get by. The Nets have taken on a more defensive identity without their best offensive player, but Dinwiddie has averaged 25 points and seven assists over his last nine games and Brooklyn has won six of those contests. The team’s offense has fallen off, but not so much that a strong defense can’t overcome it. With Irving off the floor, the Nets have held opponents to 107.6 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would rank 13 in the NBA.

Still, without its offensive catalyst, Brooklyn’s offense tends to bog down. Joe Harris (44 percent on 6.5 3-point attempts per game) and Jarrett Allen (76 percent shooting at the rim) are wonderful in their roles, but serve more as supportive role players than offensive centerpieces. Dinwiddie isn’t quite efficient enough to catalyze a quality offense. The Nets often execute crisply, but don’t have an immutable talent to intervene when they don’t.

That makes it all the more important that Atlanta maintain the defensive togetherness and communication in showed against Golden State. The Hawks were active and connected, particularly in the second and third quarters – something Pierce hopes will remain a part of his team’s identity. “We want our defensive disposition to carry over from what it was yesterday,” Pierce said Tuesday. “We got some steals, we were in the passing lanes, we were into bodies in pick-and-roll, we were help-side and weak-side defenders in position to make plays. So we want to have that same disposition going into tomorrow’s game.”

That defensive activity translated to a lively transition game and, consequently, solid offensive efficiency. “We’re not the type of team where we’re just going to be able to outscore everybody, so we have to be able to get stops, get out in transition, and score that way,” Trae Young said. “If we’re able to do that, we can score, we’ve just got to let our defense lead us to more baskets.” That could prove more difficult against the Nets, who allow the third-fewest points per transition possession in the league. They do, however, cough the ball up on over 15 percent of their possessions and surrender 1.37 points per play off of steals. If Atlanta finds its way into the passing lanes, it could lead to easy scoring chances on the other end.