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Game Preview: Bulls will face tough challenge against the hot Atlanta Hawks

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Atlanta will create some serious match-up issues for Chicago that will be very interesting to see unfold

NBA: Houston Rockets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

[Still need a preview for Saturday if anyone wants to sign up -yfbb]

The Bulls head to the Phillips Fortress Wednesday night to face off against a hot Atlanta Hawks team that has surprised many with the way they’ve incorporated a huge new addition in Dwight Howard and a substantially larger role for Dennis Schroder.

Thus far the Hawks have imposed their will on both ends of the court. They boast the 7th highest offensive rating in the league at 105.7 and the fourth lowest defensive rating at 95.3. Still a small sample size with only seven games played, but any team that finishes in the top ten in both of those categories must be taken seriously as a championship contender.

With the reorganization of the roster, Atlanta has made some key strategic shifts that will challenge the Bulls in an area they have thus far dominated. A year ago, the Hawks were dead last in the NBA in offensive rebound rate at 19.1%. Part of that was due to a lack of bulk on the front line, but as we’ve seen in recent seasons, offensive rebounding is heavily tied to a coach’s desire to prioritize transition defense and prevent fastbreak buckets the other way. Through two weeks this season, Coach Budenholzer has reversed his philosophy, choosing to take advantage of having a guy like Dwight on the roster. The Hawks currently are gobbling up offensive boards at the fifth highest rate in the league.

I was skeptical about Dennis Schroder’s ability to keep Atlanta’s beautiful offense humming as he assumed the starting job from the traded Jeff Teague. Schroder’s great athleticism is undeniable, but he had struggled to shoot from anywhere on the court in his first three seasons and was very prone to turning the ball over. I should have had more faith in the German guard after the Hawks awarded Schroder a healthy contract extension just before the season kicked off. After seven games, Atlanta’s bet seems to have been a smart one as he would have received much higher contract offers in restricted free agency based on his early performance.

Schroder is currently shooting a career high 46.7% from the field. He’s making over half of his two-point attempts, including an impressive 60% in the restricted area. Schroder has also been a more willing and capable shooter this year, something that was necessary as he assumed lead ball responsibilities for a team that prioritizes the three point shot. Schroder is making 37% of his 3.9 three-point attempts per game, both career highs.

Schroder has the sixth most drives to the basket this season, and is converting those drives into points just over 70% of the time. Only two of the five guys ahead of him in total drives have been able to score more efficiently after slicing through the lane. This will be a challenging matchup for Rajon Rondo.

To win tonight, Chicago must take advantage of the opportunity to feast on yet another team on the second night of back-to-back. The Hawks handed the Cavaliers their first loss of the season last night, and hopefully will come into today’s contest unable to muster the levels of intensity and energy that were expended in the win over Cleveland.

To take advantage of Atlanta’s heavy legs, Chicago’s lead guards are going to need to push the pace on every possession. The margin in fastbreak points may well be the story of the game. If the Hawks can slow the Bulls’ transition effort, this will not be a close contest. But if Chicago can operate like they did in wins over the Celtics, Pacers, and Nets, they will hopefully find themselves with ample opportunity to score easy baskets against one of the stouter defenses in the league.

As the world learned last night, no outcome of any contest can be assumed! So make sure you’re tuned in tonight to Comcast Sportsnet at 6:30 for tipoff. Lets go Bulls.