(52-25) Toronto Raptors at (46-32) Atlanta Hawks Preview

Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) goes between Phoenix Suns’ Alex Len (21) and Tyson Chandler (4) to score during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 103-90. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

As we prepare for tonight’s game, the Atlanta Hawks are still in the midst of a tight race for the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference and will look to finally earn a win this season against the Toronto Raptors. Entering tonight’s contest, Toronto is coming off a 96-90 home victory against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday which currently has the Raptors at 52-25 on the season and they currently own the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference with five games remaining. 

Ron Turenne – NBAE – Getty Images

For the Hawks, tonight’s game is critical for playoff implications. Unfortunately, Toronto has dominated the previous match-ups, winning six of the last seven against Atlanta. Earning this win for the Hawks could be a major step in the right direction as the NBA Playoffs is a week away and this could be a possible Eastern Conference Semi-Finals series in a few weeks. Here’s three keys to victory for tonight’s game.

Attack The Paint:

Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors goes for the layup against the Atlanta Hawks during the game on March 30, 2016 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Ron Turene

In all three losses, the Hawks as a team isn’t attacking the basket to exploit the front court of the Raptors. Although Jonas Valanciunas is a solid center, Toronto is vulnerable at the Power Forward positon, this should be a favorable match for Paul Millsap and Kris Humphries; however, the Hawks have averaged at least 27 three pointers attempted while shooting well under 40%, which is not the recipe to beat the Raptors.

Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks lays in a basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors at Philips Arena on December 2, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Dec. 1, 2015 – Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images-North America)

Atlanta must continue to challenge Toronto’s front court and execute on their shots in the paint, which is another struggle we’ve seen from the team as well. Tonight’s contest will show us if this team can truly give Toronto a run at their money as we approach the post-season.

Defensive Pressure on the Raptors:

Although our offense will play a key role in earning a victory for Atlanta, our biggest challenge, remains on the defensive end. Atlanta held their past seven opponents to a combined 40.2 percent from the field. In our win against Phoenix, the Hawks forced 24 turnovers, one off a season high and held them under 20 points in each of the final three quarters. 

Overall, the Hawks are 15-2 when forcing 20 or more turnovers, but Toronto hasn’t committed that many in a game in nearly three months. The Raptors have averaged 13 in three meetings with Atlanta. We’ve seen our defensive efforts take a huge step forward after the All-Star Break and we will need the same effort tonight. In Atlanta’s previous game against the Raptors, they  turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 25 Toronto points, compared to 11 turnovers by the Raptors for 12 Hawks points. 

Contain Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan:

Kyle Lowry’s go ahead lay-up to give the Raptors a win against the Hawks in December.

Although we’ve seen the Hawks as a unit improve defensively since the All-Star Break, in the two losses against Toronto, there was no answer for All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry and veteran shooting guard Demar Derozan. In their three games against the Hawks this season, Lowry is averaging (22.3) points per game, (7.7) assists per game, (4.0) rebounds per game, and two steals each game. Lowry gives the Hawks a defensive nightmare when he’s on the floor although Atlanta is one of the best teams in the NBA when defending point guards.

DeMar Derozan to Kyle Lowry for a three pointer in the 105-97 win against the Hawks on March 30th

Also, the Hawks have really struggled to contain DeMar Derozan in all three match-ups this season. Against Atlanta, Derozan is shooting almost 52% percent averaging (24.3) points per game, (4.7) rebounds per game, (2.7) assist per game, and a steal. The Hawks will need to make switches with Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha to slow down the shooting guard or this could be a long night for the Hawks. 

Game Information:

April 7th, 2016

8:00 PM, TV:Fox Sports Southeast  Radio: 92.9 The Game

Philips Arena- Atlanta, Georgia

Projected Starting Lineup:

Atlanta Hawks:

Jeff Teague

Kyle Korver

Kent Bazemore

Paul Millsap

Al Horford

Toronto Raptors:

Kyle Lowry

DeMar Derozan

Norman Powell

Luis Scola

Jonas Valanciunas

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