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Tonight's Game: Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks

2009/2010 NBA Season
Atlanta Hawks alternate logo
11-4 11-3
November 26th, 2009
Philips Arena
8:00 PM
Probable starters:
Jason Williams PG Mike Bibby
Vince Carter SG Joe Johnson
Mickael Pietrus SF Marvin Williams
Rashard Lewis PF Josh Smith
Dwight Howard C Al Horford
Game Officials
Mark Wunderlich
Eric Dalen
Marc Davis

Before beginning, I'd like to point out that Atlanta Hawks point guard Mike Bibby is a game-time decision due to a sprained left ankle. Hawks coach Mike Woodson has yet to decide if veteran combo guard Jamal Crawford or rookie point guard Jeff Teague would get the start in Bibby's place. If Bibby sits out, he'll be the first Hawk to miss a game to injury this season. In case you're scoring at home, the Orlando Magic have lost 17 player-games due to injury, illness, or personal issues.

Man, have we ever got a game on our hands tonight, folks. The Magic are fresh off a frustrating, last-second loss to the Miami Heat; their opponent, the host Hawks, are just straight-up fresh, having not played since last Saturday. And really, this is a clash of two of the East's elite, because it's becoming harder and harder to come up for reasons why this Hawks team is still a step or two below Orlando, Cleveland, and Boston.

This year's Hawks remind people, at least in predicament, of last year's Magic: a team that's surprised everyone right out of the gate, but that's still not always included in the conversation with those elite teams. So the Hawks are a bit frustrated. If it's any consolation, stat guru John Hollinger wrote yesterday that, thanks to Josh Smith's keeping his head on straight, the Hawks figure to keep this strong level of play up all season. I'm not sure if I'm prepared to live in such a world.

What makes the Hawks so dangerous is their offense, which is the third-most efficient in the league so far. They rank in the league's top 10 in 3 of their 4 offensive four factors: effective field goal percentage (10th), turnover rate (1st), and offensive rebound rate (3rd). How does one defend such a team? They don't make many mistakes, they hit their shots... and when they don't, they're there for the rebound and put-back. This is a challenge for Orlando. Maybe the Magic's allowing the Heat to grab more than 30% of their misses last night will serve as a wake-up call.

The Hawks are vulnerable defensively, despite Smith's acrobatic blocks. Apart from hardly sending anyone to the foul line, Atlanta is below-average in the other 3 defensive four factors, with their worst being effective field goal defense. This is where Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson can really help, although Lewis has sank a mere 17.2% of his treys this season. Matt Barnes, at 19.6%, is somehow better.

Anderson loves shooting against Atlanta, however. In four meetings last year as a New Jersey Net, Anderson made 10 of his 11 three-point attempts, and all 6 of his in Philips Arena. Here's how pronounced Anderson's shooting against the Hawks was: his current 38.0% mark from three-point range drops to 35.6% when failing to account for games against Atlanta. Last year was last year, and this year is this year, so it wouldn't be wholly surprising if he clanked 5 or 6 three-pointers tonight. But I hasten to point out he shot 3-of-4 from long-range against the Hawks this preseason.

The game tips at 8 on TNT, where Dick Stockton and Mike Fratello will have the call. Happy Thanksgiving. [Insert your own "hope this game isn't a real turkey!" comment here.]