The rather revamped Hawks got off to a marvelous start this year (Matt predicted they would be good this year despite the radical changes), jumping out to a 20-10 record after 30 games. One of those wins was a 92-75 beat down of the Bulls back on Dec. 22 at Philips Arena, one of the few times this season where the Bulls simply weren't competitive. Al Horford had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and all five Hawks starters scored in double-digits. The Bulls were slammed on the boards 45-31 and generally just stunk up the joint. At least Vlad Rad hit a three!
But since the calendar turned to 2013, the Hawks have found themselves in a rut. They have gone just 2-5 in the new year, with bad losses to the Pistons, Cavaliers and Wizards (see, the Bulls aren't the only ones!). To be somewhat fair, all those losses were on the road, but it's still hard to excuse a string of those bad losses no matter the location.
The Hawks' defense remains strong (even if Sam Smith doesn't believe so), as they are sixth in the NBA in points allowed per game and eighth in defensive efficiency. Where the Hawks have had problems are on offense. In the seven games so far in the month of January, the Hawks are averaging just 90.3 points per game. In the five losses, that number goes down to 86.8 points per game.
The Hawks' offensive issues aren't all that surprising, because while they do have some talented players, they lack a legitimate go-to guy and aren't exactly scaring anybody with their backcourt. Horford and Josh Smith can certainly be a load up front, and Smith especially is a matchup problem for the Bulls thanks to his athleticism at the 4. But as we all know, Smith is prone to inconsistency. He does lead the team in scoring at 16.7 points per game, but he's only shooting 44.3 percent from the field and has a true shooting percentage of just 47.8 percent. He still inexplicably takes too many jumpers, taking over four long twos per game despite shooting just 27.0 percent from that distance. He's also taking a career-high amount of threes, and while he's making them at a career-high rate of 33.3 percent, there's little reason for him to be taking so many jumpers when he's making nearly 80 percent of his shots at the rim.
One storyline to watch of course is the return of former Bench Mobber Kyle Korver. Korver played well in the win over the Bulls in December and has enjoyed a pretty damn good season overall. He has missed some time due to injury but has started in 30 of 31 games he has played in. He's averaging 10.3 points, knocking down 43.8 percent of his threes and sporting a pretty awesome true shooting percentage of 61.0 percent. He's also second on the team in plus/minus. Safe to say the Hawks are pretty happy the Bulls were willing to trade him there for nothing.
Korver will be in the starting lineup tonight as usual, along with Horford, Smith, Jeff Teague and Devin Harris. Harris recently returned from a foot injury, bumping Lou Williams back to the bench. Teague, Harris and Williams are all quick guards who could give the Bulls some problems, but they aren't especially efficient with their scoring and can be shut down with the proper defensive effort. Korver will be matched up against Luol Deng, which should be a major advantage for the Bulls, but one that wasn't really exploited in the first meeting.
The Bulls have had some problems in Atlanta the past few seasons, but they've mostly taken care of business on their home court, winning four in a row over the Hawks at the UC. However, the Bulls are just 10-10 on the West Side this year, so who knows what the hell will happen. Coming off such a dreadful performance, I would expect the Bulls to rebound with a solid performance tonight, but again, who the hell knows.
For more on the Hawks, be sure to check out Peachtree Hoops. And here's a video via Peachtree Hoops of Korver talking about the matchup, with some nice words about Deng:
Stats via Hoopdata