Brooklyn and Atlanta meet for the first time this season

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Two straight wins. Brooklyn was able to build on their win against Oklahoma City by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers at home on Saturday night. They still find themselves at 12-21 & have a LONG way to go to regain a sense of respectability, but they're off to a pretty nice start this month.

Visiting the Barclays Center this Monday night will be the Atlanta Hawks. Contrary to what you may have heard, there are some other decent teams in the Eastern Conference outside of Miami and Indiana. The Hawks find themselves in the third position in the East and will probably stay there in all likelihood. Maintaining their position will be difficult due to the loss of star big man Al Horford. Horford tore his right pectoral muscle and will miss the remainder of this season.

There's also an other interesting element to this contest. It's been brought up plenty of times, but the Nets have some draft pick issues. The Hawks own Brooklyn's (unprotected) first round draft picks for this season and next. At the beginning, there wasn't much concern about the draft pick this year because everyone expected Brooklyn to make a deep playoff run this season. However, things haven't turned out that way. James Clarence has more:

It’s in the Hawks best interest for Brooklyn to be terrible. The Hawks don’t attract top free agents, and their recent string of playoff appearances hasn’t allowed for high draft picks. Brooklyn is trying to buy a championship with veterans by sacrificing their future draft picks. The Johnson trade wouldn’t have mattered if they were winning, but holy oculus are the Nets in a free fall. I am positively salivating at the chance of Atlanta getting their pick, and at my peril (Jinx alert! Al Horford injury: Where do the Hawks go from here?" Sorry, Al! I’m looking at what could be in store if Brooklyn can’t get their act together this season.

Should make for an intriguing game.

The season so far

What's the story with these two clubs? Let's check the numbers

2013-2014

Brooklyn

Atlanta

Record

12-21 18-16

Pace

94.24 97.44

Offensive Efficiency

102 103.7

Defensive Efficiency

106.2 102.1

Offensive Rebounding percentage

22.8 21.7

Turnover rate

15.5 15.5

Assist rate

16.4 19.1

Rebound rate

48 48.6

Free throw rate

33.3 25.5

Effective Field Goal percentage

49.2 51.7

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

51 50.2

As usual, the focus for Brooklyn will be on Deron Williams. He's had a great start to the new year, averaging 25 points and 5 assists along with hitting seven three pointers in the two games thus far. On most nights, he has (or should have) the advantage over opposing point guards, and this advantage was even more pronounced as All Star point guards Russell Westbrook & Kyrie Irving missed their games due to injury. With Jeff Teague on the other side, Williams should see some tough competition.

Joe Johnson has been experiencing a cold spell, but the former Hawk hopes to turn it around against his former team. Johnson is having the worst season of his career, but has connected on 38 percent of his three pointers. If Johnson is unable to get back on track, look for Paul Pierce to pick up the load. Kevin Garnett will return to the lineup after getting Saturday night off to rest up. The Nets have a tough stretch of games this week so look for him to be available for all of them before Brooklyn heads to London.

The Hawks come into this game on a little bit of a slump. They've lost their last two ballgames, including a loss in Chicago on Saturday night.

While he was here, Horford was a key cog in the Hawks' attack. He was tied for second on the team in usage rate and averaged 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game on a True Shooting percentage of 58.8. Without him, more of Atlanta's offense will rely on Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver & Paul Millsap (more on him later). Korver has earned the reputation of being one of the league's best three point shooters and he's continued his excellence this season. He's shooting 47.2 percent from three point range and recently broke retired guard Dana Barros' streak of consecutive games with at least one three pointer made. He's struggled from deep the last three games, but he's always a threat to go off. This has been the most active (in terms of usage rate) he's been on offense, but his shooting hasn't been as good as in season's past. He's only shooting 42 percent from the field, and that dip in efficiency can be attributed to his lack of success inside the restricted area. In that area, he's only shooting 54.4 percent and has been blocked 20 times. Shooting isn't everything to point guard play, and Teague has seen his assist numbers increase for the fourth consecutive season. He didn't have a great time the last time he saw an elite point guard (Golden State's Stephen Curry on Friday), so look for him to be extra aggressive tonight.

Player to watch: Paul Millsap

His signing in the summer didn't bring much in terms of fanfare, but he's having his usual excellent season. What was the book on him going into the season? Mike Prada at the mothership does the comparison between Millsap and the player he replaced, Josh Smith:

Which is better? It depends on the situation, but Millsap can bring a lot of different offensive skills to the table that could work extremely well with the passing ability of Al Horford. The famous 4-5 pick and roll is dead, but other hi-lo action certainly is possible. Millsap is also very good at sneaking around the baseline, making him a useful weakside player on high pick and roll action. He won't go into the post and make beautiful diagonal passes to shooters like Smith could, but he is also a better and more selective jump-shooter that can be positioned in more places on the court.

This has held true for Millsap this season. He's averaging a cool 17.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on an efficient 55.6 True Shooting percentage. He's actually having his worst season shooting from the midrange at 34.3 percent, but he's more than compensated for this by incorporating the three pointer into his arsenal. This is the first year that he's consistently been taking shots from deep, and he's been converting on close to 40 percent of his attempts.

His ability to stretch the floor should come in handy against Brooklyn. Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche aren't particularly great defending big men on the perimeter, so look for Millsap & rookie big man Pero Antic to camp out from deep. Where Evans should give Millsap trouble is on the glass. Millsap is one of the better rebounders on the defensive glass and Evans is a well known terror on the offensive glass. If he doesn't do anything else, Evans should at least keep Millsap busy.

From the Vault

Head on back to 2008 and watch Joe Johnson lead the Hawks to victory over Paul Pierce and the Celtics.


More reading: Peachtree Hoops

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