The Utah Jazz begin 2015 with a home game against the Atlanta Hawks, and former Jazzmen Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, and DeMarre Carroll. The Hawks are 2nd in the Eastern Conference right now, with a 1/2 game margin between them and the Toronto Raptors. I don't think anyone had those two teams as the tops in the East, but surprises happen when you put in the hard work and honest efforts to get better. Utah is trying to get there, and so far this season have beaten a number of good teams. Could tonight be another case of "good things happening to good people?" We shall see.
Atlanta starts a three game road trip, and play tomorrow night in Portland, have a day off, and then face the Clippers. Going up against West playoff teams could make this a 'trap game' for them as they overlook the lowly Jazz. Complicating things for Atlanta are injuries, starting center Al Horford is probable with an illness, and DeMarre Carroll is questionable with dehydration. (Might have partied a little too hard on New years? This is just one of many possibilities. I do not know.)
The Hawks are a very good team, with an amazing defense (7th) and very proficient offense (11th), and they win games by a fair margin and rarely lose by blowout. They did suffer a blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Boxing day (do you non-Canadians have that? That's on December 26th). I don't anticipate them losing another like that anytime soon.
Millsap, Korver, and Carroll lead the Hawks in MPG this season; which is bitter sweet. I want the Jazz to rebuild organically, and want those guys to play for a good team -- and both of those things are happening. But you do always have 'feelings' for former Jazz players (good feelings or bad feelings). Millsap will surely be an All-Star this season again, and Korver rarely misses shots (hitting 52% from DOWNTOWN this year), while Carroll continues to expand his game and usefulness. The big issue tonight will be point guard as Jeff Teague (and Dennis Schroder) have been giving all kinds of teams trouble this season. Our point guards (Trey Burke and Dante Exum) will have their work cut out for them.
Atlanta's defense relies upon, gasp, playing solid defense. They don't send the other team to the foul line, and they make the other team take poor shots. Oh, and they REALLY get out there and cause turn overs. Offensively they don't crush it, but have a very open and fluid style that produces open shots and good looks. If you are going to hurt the Hawks you could do it on the glass. They are a below average defensive rebounding team, and rarely get an offensive rebound (part of that is that they are 4th in eFG%... so rebounds are scarce there?).
Ultimately, like with all of our wins this year, it's going to be about one or more players stepping up to support Gordon Hayward. Trey Burke had a very good game against the Timberwolves, and without Alec Burks, they are going to need some consistent scoring from somewhere. The obvious hope is for Rodney Hood to get going from the outside, but I'd like to see a little more Dante Exum at the SG -- just to shake things up. It would only be SG by name, by the way.
Anyway, one really good team starting a road trip facing off a hot Jazz team playing at home. Should be a good game.