Game 77 Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Houston Rockets

I am an idiot. A fool. A moron. I'm a nonbeliever. A heretic. A cynic.

All of this was evident two nights ago against the Spurs. I missed the first three-and-a-half quarters (SLEEP!), and only then was barely awake for the end of the game. So when the first tv timeout happened, I grabbed my computer and checked out the gamethread to see how we were doing. The game seemed to be up and down and the Rockets were currently leading 124-96 with 5:00 left. Ah, but how quickly things change.

The following then happened, in order: Luis Scola turnover, Tony Parker missed three, Tim Duncan offensive rebound and putback (102-98), K-Mart missed layup, Scola offensive rebound and tip missed, Chuck Hayes offensive rebound and blocked by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker rebounds and makes layup (102-100), Luis Scola hits jumper (104-100), Tim Duncan dunk (104-102), Scola turnover, Scola foul, Manu goes 1-2 (104-103), K-Mart forces three as shot clock winds down, Courtney Lee fouls Manu, who hits both free throws (104-105), Lowry misses jumper, Parker gets open layup off Duncan feed (107-104). Timeout Rockets, 1:02 left.

Four minutes have passed, and the Rockets have made one shot, committed two turnovers, and have missed five shots. The Spurs have gone on an 11-2 run. That's what championship teams do, and the Spurs were proving themselves once again.

The writing was on the wall, so you'll forgive me for a comment I made on the gamethread. It's a statement that I will forever be ashamed of. One that as I typed it, I felt like my soul was being taken. I had lost all hope.

I wrote:

Time of death

21:48

by ak2themax on Apr 1, 2011 9:48 PM CDT  

Oh, and I believed all of it. We were cooked. The Spurs bench was going nuts. The crowd at Toyota Center was shocked. Even that crazy girl whom I could hear from Lubbock had finally shut up. The Rockets were (to borrow a phrase) going gently into the good night.

I never should have doubted. I never should have stopped believing. This team has too much heart. This team cares too much. Those guys all believe in each other. I shouldn't have let it go so easily.

Because they won't. And yeah, I hate to be "that guy" who is cheerful and happy and says stuff like, "Next year, we're gonna be so awesome!" but that's what I'm turning into. Last year, all I could think about was this year, and how with Yao back we'd be a force to be reckoned with. Well, that didn't come to fruition. But now, I can honestly say that even if the Rockets make zero moves this offseason (assuming no lockout), they'll still be competitive next year. And yes, the goal is always to win a title, and that's not my job to figure out (thank God), but all I can ask for as a fan is a team that gives a crap and tries every night. A team that doesn't give up even with down 3 with a minute to go against the best team in the league.

A team like these Houston Rockets.

Matchups, and the actual Hawks game preview after the jump.

I read somewhere that Atlanta had one of the easiest schedules before the All-Star game, and one of the toughest afterwards. And according to my math, they're 10-11 since the break.

However, the Hawks have just beaten Orlando and Boston consecutively.They're on a hot streak, winning four games in a row overall. However, they're probably going to meet up with the Magic in the first round, and I don't know if they can beat them in a series. They can, but I'm more sure of Dwight Howard and co. than Joe Johnson and this group.

Also, I don't trust Larry Drew. He's a rookie head coach, so it's not his fault. It's just that after the success of Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, it's disappointing to see a guy with a talented team not get the most out of them. 

The Rockets have to win no matter what. This game is the first in a long time where the opposing team isn't fighting for a playoff berth or position. OK, New Jersey wasn't looking for anything but other than that almost all of our games since the All-Star break have been against teams just as hungry as us.

Oh, and the crew over at Peachtree Hoops is pretty darn good.

Matchups:

PG: Kyle Lowry vs. Kirk Hinrich:

Hinrich was traded in a deadline deal for Mike Bibby and Jordan Crawford. I really like Crawford and think he'll be a good player in the league. I know Hinrich was highly coveted by Rockets fans when we didn't have a real point guard.

Now, we've got a pretty good point guard.

Advantage: Rockets

SG: Kevin Martin vs. Joe Johnson

I don't get Joe Johnson. I mean, I get signing a $120 million contract. That, I totally understand. But Johnson was talking about being on a contender before he signed. I didn't want him on the Rockets or anything, but I thought he was serious about winning.

So the way I see it, he had two choices:

1. Sign for less than maximum money and allow the team to sign another player to make the Hawks better.

2. Sign elsewhere for a contender for Amare money (5 years, $100 million).

Again, I get signing for money, but don't pretend you want to win when you clearly don't.

The Rockets won't be able to stop Johnson, but the Hawks will have trouble stopping Martin, too.

Advantage: Even

SF: Chase Budinger vs. Josh Smith

We want Smith to shoot. A lot. We do not want him to dunk. At all.

Advantage: Hawks

PF: Luis Scola vs. Marvin Williams:

I don't think Williams is terrible or anything, but this pick has been every bit as bad as the Darko pick in terms of what was passed up. After Williams came Deron Williams (3), Chris Paul (4), Charlie Villanueva (7), Channing Frye (8), Andrew Bynum (10), Danny Granger (17), Luther Head (just kidding), David Lee (30), Monta Ellis (40), and Marcin Gortat (57).

Advantage: Rockets

C: Chuck Hayes vs. Al Horford:

I like Horford a lot. If the Rockets can contain him, we'll be in really good shape.

Advantage: Hawks

---

Bench:

Hawks: Jamal Crawford, Zaza Pachulia, Jeff Teague

Rockets: Goran Dragic, Courtney LeeBrad MillerPatrick PattersonJordan Hill

Advantage: Rockets, but Crawford can do damage

Injuries:

Hawks: None

Rockets: Yao out

Prediction: This game will be close. Rockets win by 5.

Hawks vs Rockets coverage

Peachtree Hoops

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