Tonight's Big Showdown: An NBA Finals Preview?
Warriors. Hawks. Both teams are the best in their conference. They're the only two teams in the NBA with single-digit losses, and they're the only two teams with at least 39 wins. And they're also the only two squads with winning streaks of at least 16 games during the course of this season.
Tonight, they'll play in what could be considered the game of the year.
As similar as their seasons have been thus far, both Atlanta and Golden State have had significantly different experiences over their last two games. The Warriors are coming off of back-to-back games in which they scored at least 121 points, first blowing out the Kings by 25 in Sacramento, and then cruising to a 14-point victory over the Mavericks.
The Warriors are coming into Atlanta on a high note. What about the Hawks?
Well, for their 2015 standards, they're not playing great...because they lost a game. On Monday, the Hawks fell to Anthony Davis and the Pelicans 115-110 in New Orleans, allowing the Pelicans to shoot 50% from the field. As a result, saw their 19-game winning streak come to an end.
They did bounce back on Wednesday and hold the Wiz to 96 points. That's more like the Hawks we've seen this year. We'll have to see if they keep up their good play tonight as they host the Warriors.
|Team||Record||nERD||Projected Wins||Champion Odds|
If you're unfamiliar with nERD, that's our in-house metric here at numberFire that ranks teams on a scale of 0-100, with 50 as the league average. The ranking is predictive of the team's ultimate winning percentage.
In terms nERD ranking, the Warriors and Hawks are first and fourth in the NBA, respectively. And they're both are championship contenders -- the Warriors have the best chance at winning the title at 35.1%, while the Hawks are second at 17.7%.
The Warriors are third in the league in offensive efficiency with a rating of 112.2, while the Hawks are close behind with a rating of 109.8 -- sixth in the league. As for defense, the Warriors are the best, leading the league with a defensive rating of 100.5. But the Hawks are again not far behind, ranking sixth in defensive efficiency at 102.5.
Golden State has the edge in both field-goal percentage and three-point percentage, as they're first in the league in both categories at 48.4% and 38.9%. The Hawks are still a respectable third in the NBA in field goal percentage (47.2%). They're also a very close second in three-point percentage (38.8%) on the arm of sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who's having a historic season, leading the league in three point-percentage at 53.2%.
There's one apparent difference between the two teams: pace. Golden State plays at the fastest pace in the league (98.9 possessions per game), while Atlanta plays at a very average pace (93.7). It'll be interesting to see which tempo dictates the style of the game. As evenly matched as these teams are (at least on paper), tempo could prove the deciding factor in tonight's highly-anticipated game.
Matchup to Watch
Bogut vs. Horford
Bogut is a great defensive force for the Warriors, averaging 1.8 blocks per game. He's a big reason why teams shoot just 42% against them. But the Hawks might have a weapon in Horford that could neutralize Bogut's influence on defense. At 6'10", Horford can step out and hit perimeter shots. From the area 16 feet from the hoop but inside the three-point line, Horford's shooting a career-high 52% this season. And that's where he takes the highest percentage (37.8%) of his field goal attempts. He's more than comfortable in that range.
If he can step out and hit those same perimeter shots he's been hitting all year, that would either force Bogut to step out of the paint -- therefore, abandoning his post as rim protector -- or force Steve Kerr to go with a completely different defender, or even lineup, to guard against it. It's definitely something to watch for. And as I alluded to before, all it could take is one advantage to tip the scales in favor of one team or the other in tonight's big showdown.