When: 5:00 pm EDT
Where: State Farm Arena; Atlanta; GA
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
The Hornets head to Atlanta with a 1-1 record after administering a beatdown to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night to kick off the new season then falling on Friday to the New Orleans Pelicans. The matchup against the Hawks on the road will be a tough one with LaMelo Ball still nursing an ankle injury.
Atlanta Hawks overview
In many ways the Hawks represent what the Hornets wish they were in that Atlanta’s a young-ish, competitive team on the rise. Both the Hornets and the Hawks are building around superstar point guards in LaMelo Ball and Trae Young, but Atlanta has cracked the code of assembling roster depth and quality coaching while Charlotte is still laboring to get there. The result is Atlanta has made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, including a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago, while the Hornets keep getting bounded in the play-in tournament.
Trae Young is an offensive juggernaut who has been named an All-Star twice in his four-year career. Last year he averaged 28.4 points with 9.7 assists per game while hitting a career-high 38.2% of his 3-pointers. New arrival guard Dejounte Murray is a huge addition after averaging 21.1 points and 9.2 assists last year with the San Antonio Spurs and posting similar numbers thus far in Atlanta. Small forward De’Andre Hunter is entering his fifth season and is usually good for a consistent 13-15 points per game. John Collins is a solid stretch four who can shoot, rebound, and defend while center Clint Capela scores about 15 efficient points per game and is one of best rebounders in the league.
Two key players from last year’s Hawks squad are gone as Kevin Huerter was traded to the Sacramento Kings during the offseason and Danilo Gallinari signed with the Celtics. Key reserve Bogdan Bogdanovic has yet to play this year due to an knee injury while the rest of the Hawks bench is pretty thin with the Holiday brothers - Justin and Aaron - and center Onyeka Okongwu.
How the Hornets can win
Through two games the Hornets appear to have more bench depth than many anticipated after getting solid play from Nick Richards (12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds per game) and Dennis Smith Jr. (11.0 points, 4.0 assists, 2.5 steals). Gordon Hayward is healthy and has started the season hot averaging 23.0 points and 4.5 assists on a blistering 60% from the field. Nick Richards’ emergence, Dennis Smith’s productivity, and Gordon Hayward’s mere presence make the Hornets a fairly deep, potent team, even without LaMelo Ball.
While containing Trae Young is the easy go-to answer for beating the Hawks, I’m going to highlight the need for the Hornets to clamp down on Atlanta’s big men John Collins and Clint Capela, especially keeping them off the glass. Getting big rebounding games from Mason Plumlee, PJ Washington, and Nick Richards will be key in preventing second chance points from a Hawks team that can score in waves. In the Hornets last game center Jonas Valancinuas annihilated Charlotte in the post with 30 points and 17 boards. The Hornets have to do better down low against the Hawks.
Atlanta has distanced itself from the Hornets in the Eastern Conference standings over the last couple of seasons. We’ll see tonight if the Hornets have made any progress in closing that gap with their Southeast division rival.