If the Knicks want to stay over .500 heading into the All-Star break, they’ll have to earn it. With Amare banged-up and the Melodrama nearing its peak, New York will have its hands full with Atlanta paying its second visit to MSG. To prepare for Wednesday’s matchup, Hoopinion’s Bret Lagree gives us an insider’s look at one of the teams the Knicks are looking up at in the Eastern Conference.
Knickerblogger: The Hawks have handled the Knicks with two 9-point victories this season, which is interesting considering they were 1-3 against New York last year. Why do you think the Hawks match up so well against the new-look Knicks?
Hoopinion: I think it helps a lot that Amare Stoudemire is the focal point of the Knicks offense and that both of Atlanta’s two good defenders (Al Horford and Josh Smith) can match up against him. The flip side of that is that the Knicks are not a good defensive team and have difficulty exploiting Atlanta’s offensive weaknesses which become so pronounced when the team struggles.
Knickerblogger: At one point during last summer’s free agency, it looked like the Knicks had a good shot at signing Joe Johnson. Obviously, he stuck with Atlanta and New York ended up adding only one star. Based on his performance so far this year, do you think Johnson was worth a max contract?
Hoopinion: No. Nor was he worth a max contract based on any aspect of his previous performance. He’s a good player but the fact that the Hawks have, to this point, invested $200 million, two first round draft picks, and Boris Diaw in Johnson goes a long way toward explaining why it’s very hard to envision the Hawks improving beyond a team good enough to win a first-round playoff series if they get home-court advantage. Given the quality of the Hawks teams over the decade prior to drafting Al Horford, that’s nothing to dismiss completely, but it does dampen excitement.
Knickerblogger: The Hawks were swept by the Magic in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, but Atlanta is 2-1 against Orlando this year. The Hawks are now tied with the Magic for 4th in the East, but they’ve struggled with Philadelphia and Charlotte at home recently. Do you think this team has a chance to make a playoff run and compete with the East’s upper echelon?
Hoopinion: I do not. Orlando is certainly worse than they were last year and the Hawks, due to the embarrassment of the playoff loss to the Magic, made a concerted change in how they’ve defended the Magic. That change has been for the better but this is, in every other way, very similar to last year’s team.
Knickerblogger: What else should Knick fans know about this team? Are there any players that have impressed you this season that we should watch for on Wednesday?
Hoopinion: Though he’s unlikely to look like it given the lingering effects of his collision with Blake Griffin, Al Horford is the best player on this team. He’s the most efficient scorer, the best rebounder, the best on-the-ball defender, and an excellent passer. Moving up into the top 3 of the 2007 NBA Draft (that Hawks pick was only top-3 protected from the sign-and-trade with Phoenix for Joe Johnson) is the most important (positive) thing that has happened to this team in it current iteration. The 41- and 34-point home losses came in games Horford missed through injury. He is not that big a factor but he is the biggest factor in this team’s success.