The Golden State Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks meet for the first time this season in a clash between the two conference leaders and current favorites to play each other in the NBA finals. What?! Yes, that’s right, and unless you haven’t been following the NBA over the last few months, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
The 41-9 Hawks who are also 24-3 at home and have a 19-game winning streak to their name this season (currently at just 1) will host the 39-8 Warriors. The Warriors have lost just once this season to an Eastern conference team – at home to the incredibly unstable Chicago Bulls. The Hawks are 13-3 against Western conference teams this season, and haven’t lost to one at home since being stunned by the Lakers back in mid November.
The Hawks won all through January, which earned their starters the combined Player of the Month award from the NBA.Head coach Mike Budenholzer: I think it’s reflective of all the work that everyone’s putting in each day. I’m just appreciative of that recognition for their work this last month.
Both coaches are trying not to make too much of this game, and not fall into the finals preview showdown this is talked up to be.
Steve Kerr: It’s a fun game, it doesn’t really mean a whole lot if we win or lose in terms of the big picture. Both teams are having great seasons. One loss, one win, not sure what that means, but it’s a great test and it’s a great challenge. … I think we’re all looking forward to it
While it’s arguable which is the best team, there’s no doubt about the best player on the floor: Stephen Curry, coming off his second 50-point game of the season, scoring 51 points against the Dallas Mavericks. One of the leading MVP candidates (along with Harden and LeBron), he’s averaging 23.6 points per game while shooting 40.4% from the field, not too far off from the 50-40-90 mark, although Kyle Korver has been at an even more impressive 50-50-90 pace.
The Warriors are a great team, but they still have the tendency to fall back and rely on the shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. That’s not a very bad option to have and can easily erase big deficits in a very short amount of time, but it does open up opportunities for the opposition, and the Hawks have shown a lot of intelligence and opportunism this season on both ends of the floor that comes from team chemistry and excellent understanding of each other on the floor.
The Hawks play at a slightly slower pace than the Warriors but have the ability to turn it up and the matchup between Jeff Teague and Curry should be very interesting to watch, or how the Warriors handle the way Atlanta use screens to free up Korver and from there see how the play develops, often creating very easy pick and roll opportunities for them. The Warriors have the best defense in the NBA, but the Hawks are top 5 in efficiency on both ends of the floor, and seem to be one of the few teams that possess the manpower and style to counter the Warriors.