Hawks. Knicks. Revenge? Maybe.
WHAT’S NEW IN ATLANTA?
The NBA needs more coaches like Nate McMillian. The Hawks head coach comes from the last great decade of hard-nosed professional basketball. As a player, he was a take-no-shit wing. McMillian cut his teeth on the defensive end, leading the NBA in steals per game for the 1993–94 season and being named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in back-to-back seasons. In his long and decorated coaching career, he has brought that grit and grind to the identities of the teams he coached. Including this Hawks team, who play hard collectively, even though they lack elite perimeter defenders outside of De’Andre Hunter. Plus, the guy played the game and can empathize with the highs and lows of a season, without coddling his players. He demands accountability without running his players ragged or losing locker rooms. He’s inventive on play-calling and lets Trae Young call his own plays when the momentum inspires it. In many ways, he’s what Knicks Coach Tom Thibodeau needs to evolve into if he wants this current squad to get out of its doldrums and back into the fierce competitor it was last season.
The Hawks are hot as hell, coming off their seventh win in a row and five wins in a row at home. Knicks fans will point to the team having Mitchell Robinson starting at center, and they would be right. This is a big equalizer since Robinson was injured for last year’s playoff matchup with the Hawks. To the bonus, Robinson gets up for these types of games. We should see a great battle down low between two old-school bigs with little offensive polish but a lot of passion and strength. The Hawks are nothing to balk at. They defied all expectations (but mine) last year and rode an earned momentum to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the eventual champion. Milwaukee Bucks. I expect the Hawks to be right back in the Conference Finals this year, behind a First-Team All-NBA season from their elite point-guard.
The 21st center Knicks villain returns, with Knicks fans still licking the wounds of last year’s playoff beatdown at the hands of Trae Young. The kid is an absolute super-star and still somehow remains seemingly underrated. This season Young’s averages are up almost all across the board. He’s averaging 26,4, and 9, a staggering line considering the team is deeper than last year. The truly scary part is Young is averaging career highs in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. If he keeps this up he deserves to be in the conversation for MVP.
The Serbian sniper has cooled a little this season, averaging a little over 12ppg on 40% from three, after shooting nearly 44% from the line last year. But this is the Knicks, and Bogdan has exactly the kind of heat-check mentality to rise to the occasion and burn us alive. Young was a terror in last year’s playoffs but it was the play from Bogdan and Clint Capela that kept the Knicks from ever having a chance.
The Red Mamba is a bit overrated if you ask me. If he was on a worse team, with less talent, he might end up having more inflated statistics. But he plays well within his role, even though that has shrunk with the staggering amount of young talent the Hawks possess. The emergence of Cam Reddish has caused Huerter to recede a little in his role within the offense but the kid has the potential to go nuclear any given night. Especially with Evan Fournier guarding him tonight.
In all honesty, John Collins is one of the most overrated players in the NBA. That’s not an attack on any part of his game. He’s just a very good starter getting paid star money. Kind of like Kristaps Porzingus but more athletic and plays better defense. Collins is a smart, two-way player who can hit the three and attack the rim. He just doesn't seem to do either as often,m or with much ferocity, as he should. He averages 16.8, which is somewhat related to the elite depth of the team but also related to him taking a backseat at times to the ball movement and shared offensive load under Trae Young. As players usually do against the Knicks for the last 20 years, watch him drop 30 on us tonight. RIP.
On the flip side, Clint Capela is now of the most underrated layers in the NBA. This guy should be a household name by now. He is supremely efficient and absolutely lethal in the pick and roll with Young. Capela is strong, broad, and sly on the break, rolling to the rim, and recovering in help-side defense. He is a throwback to the days of Jamal Magloire, Tyson Chandler, and Dwight Howard.
New York: Derrick Rose (ankle), Taj Gibson (groin), Kemba Walker (rest) are out. Nerlens Noel (knee) is questionable.
Atlanta: Bogdan Bogdanovic (hamstring) and Cam Reddish (wrist) are questionable to play while Sharife Cooper (two-way contract), De’Andre Hunter (wrist), and Onyeka Okongwu (shoulder) are out.
Knicks take this one. The team rallies behind staying above .500 and also burns with motivation for a revenge game against the team who embarrassed them in last year’s first-round series. Also, if we see an extended Deuce McBride, bet he takes the Young matchup with the utmost intensity.