ATL vs. Bulls: Game Preview 01.03.12 7:00PM CSN

The season is getting interesting! After watching the Hawks against the Bulls last season in the Eastern Conference Semis, it was easy to dismiss the Hawks team as a talented bunch with no real identity, or commitment to consistently making the correct plays down the stretch of games.

You can’t say that this year. The Hawks have, without a lot of notoriety, had a hell of a start to this season. Most of their earlier contests have been so lopsided (first two games won with point differentials of 20+ pts), they have been unwatchable. The Heat matchup from last night was the first time I got a chance to really see them play and note changes in their play/approach.

Biggest differences I noticed:

Of course, T-Mac – He hit some big shots for them in the 4th against the Heat, but not only that… He has the respect of Johnson and Smith and I think he is a new, calming force for the team. If you note the body language of the players in a timeout during the first quarter after a few transition buckets by Miami, you got the feeling they were about to come undone. Not so. T-Mac was a big part of this as he has the ability to calmly execute under pressure.

Jeff Teague – Still balling… Still calmly penetrating defenses and taking folks off the dribble… He consistently beat D.Rose last season and got that tear-drop/runner/floater of his in the lane… He looks to have even more confidence this season and its unbelievable that w/o Hinrich getting injured in the Orlando series last season, this guy would have still been buried on the bench.

Marvin Williams – He was a complete non-factor against us in the playoffs, but now he looks to be much more active and looking for his offensive game.

POS STARTER 2ND 3RD 4TH
Point Guard Jeff Teague Jannero Pargo Donald Sloan Kirk Hinrich
Shooting Guard Joe Johnson Tracy McGrady Willie Green
Small Forward Marvin Williams Jerry Stackhouse Vladimir Radmanovic
Power Forward Josh Smith Ivan Johnson
Center Al Horford Zaza Pachulia Jason Collins

The Bulls of course had some shakeups in the backcourt… C.J. went down with a “baby Rondo” elbow sprain during garbage time against Memphis and is expected to miss the next four games, including this one. Rip has a groin pull which the Bulls MIGHT keep him out again for, but we’ll see. I’m going to assume that they start Ronnie tonight since we are about to get back out on the road. I’d give him another day, but you know Thibs.

I think the Hawks come into tonight’s contest brimming with confidence after that HUGE win over the Heat. There are some weaknesses that the Heat have however that the Bulls do not:

– We can over-match the Hawks at the point guard position with the best penetrator and arguably best finisher in the league with D. Rose

– Our defense, in my opinion, has always been superior to the Miami Heat. The Heat play team defense well and they are perhaps the best at recovering and challenging shots at the rim, however I believe that the Bulls have superior man-to-man defenders in Deng, Taj, Brew and Noah. D. Rose is no slouch, but he is usually found fighting through screens.

– Bulls don’t get rattled as easily as the Heat do when playing from behind. This is arguable, however I just think they are fine playing with big leads. Once they get challenged and LOSE the lead, its a different story. These are all intangible things I’ve noticed that are clearly subjective… Body language, shot selection, etc.

Before I sign off, please, revisit our battle with ATL last season!

This should be a great game tonight. The Bulls will definitely want to protect home court, while Atlanta will want to show some muscle in knocking off not only the Eastern Conference Champs from last season, but the second best team in the East as well. Watch the point guard matchup, Horford’s offensive production and Josh Smith’s shot selection. Look for Johnson and T-Mac to be heavily defended by both Brewer and Deng…

See you on the other side Bulls Fans and LET’S GO!!!!! I’m pumped for this one!!!

–ct

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