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Hawks Versus Pistons - Player Matchups for the Playoffs

After watching the Atlanta Hawks play two tough games this weekend, I am giving the Hawks the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. I know it seems early with around 20 games left to play, but I have confidence that with a healthy Mike Bibby and a long home stand, the Hawks are going to finish the season on a positive note.

If Bibby plays and the Hawks stay healthy, their 8 man rotation is pretty good. The Hawks’ 3 point shooting in Philips Arena and their defensive intensity are the big keys for this team.

Okay, pencil in the Hawks as the 4 seed in the playoffs. The scary part for Atlanta is that they might have to play the Detroit Pistons in the first round. Without Allen Iverson, the Pistons scored big road victories over Orlando and Boston this weekend.

The Hawks match up much better with the Miami Heat. The Heat's Dwayne Wade is the best player and most explosive offensive threat on these three teams, but the Pistons present so many more match up problems for Atlanta in a playoff series.

Here is a preview of the players going head to head if the Hawks have to face the Pistons in the 1st round of the playoffs:

Mike Bibby vs. Rodney Stuckey

The Hawks have been struggling during this stretch when Bibby has been hurt and sick. Without Bibby, the Hawks can make the playoffs, but they can forget about doing any damage in the 1st round. Bibby is the better shooter and passer than Stuckey, but Stuckey is younger and much more physical.

Stuckey still is learning the point guard position, but he is a physical guard that can get to the basket. If the Pistons decide to clear out and let Stuckey operate one on one against Bibby, the Hawks are in trouble. Stuckey is a solid defender, but not focused enough to stay with Bibby at all times. Bibby will score, but so will Stuckey. I call this match up even.

Joe Johnson vs. Rip Hamilton

Johnson is the better all around player. Hamilton will have a hard time guarding Johnson. The Hawks like to run Joe to the left wing and get him the ball. Plus, Johnson can post Rip. The Pistons coaching staff would be smart to put Stuckey on JJ during some stretches.

On the other side of the coin, JJ is going to have to chase Hamilton all over the court and over countless screens. The Pistons create much of their offense from Hamilton reading screens and how teams guard the screen off the ball. Is Johnson in good enough shape to chase Rip all night long and still carry the Hawks’ offense in the last 4 minutes of the 4th quarter? That will be a huge question if these teams play in the 1st round. I give the edge to the Hawks.

Josh Smith vs. Tayshaun Prince

This whole season J-Smoove has been a wild card for the Hawks. He has the ability to make a huge impact on this series or he could disappear. If he is determined on defense, Smith will keep Prince in front of him and negate some of Prince’s vaunted low post game.

Prince is a member of the “Redeem Team” and one of the best defenders in the NBA. The past four years he has been 2nd team all defense in the Association. He will cause all kind of problems for Smith if Smith is careless with the basketball. Ok, if Smith tries to dribble Tayshaun probably will steal the ball from him. Prince is not playing as well this year offensively. I think he is tired and playing too many minutes. Arron Affalo has not really been able to play minutes at the small forward.

Of all the Redeem Team members, Prince’s game is down this year. However, he killed the Celtics with a big 3 point shot on Sunday and his passing is light years ahead of Smith’s. The Pistons have a clear edge here especially if the bumpy J-Smoove shows up for this series.

Al Horford vs. Rasheed Wallace

“The Boss” has been playing great since the all star break. He had a monster game against the Denver Nuggets; then he followed that up with a 20 point / 20 rebound game against Miami. In last year’s playoffs, Horford was able to score in the low post against Boston even when guarded by Kevin Garnett.

Of all the Hawks on the roster, Horford is the one guy that has to stay in Atlanta. No what Rick Sund says, Horford is a power forward with a Karl Malone type future. He is not a center, but neither are Rasheed or Antonio McDyess. However, I am sure that the Pistons will not double him in the post.

Wallace and McDyess will take turns guarding him. Wallace’s length, positioning, and defensive savvy will be a huge challenge for Horford. Wallace can block shots, but he is just as likely to slap down and go for steals. In my mind, Wallace is probably the most important player on the Pistons. If he is motivated and plays well, the Pistons are better than the Hawks. Wallace is the one player in this series that can run to the low block, receive the ball, and score consistently.

Horford will battle him in the post, but Wallace is kind of like and old school Kevin McHale in the post. He is a force and then he can take his game out and make 3 point shots. One quality to Wallace that works in the Hawks’ favor is that he does not like to draw fouls and go to the line. When the Pistons go to Wallace at the end of games, Horford and the Hawks must make him score over the top. I give Wallace an edge over Horford, but only for the 2009 playoffs.

Marvin Williams vs. Antonio McDyess

It is going to be interesting to see how these teams match up on the interior. Williams is really a small forward, but he cannot really guard Rasheed or Tayshaun. He can guard McDyess and actually pressure McDyess when he catches the ball on the perimeter. I really like this match up for Atlanta. The Pistons probably will have to put Prince on Williams, because of Williams’ range on his jump shot. McDyess will not be able to guard Williams at all. Add to that the fact that Marvin will be playing for his next contract and Marvin might have a monster series.

McDyess is old and does not move that well, so Williams should be able to grab some offensive rebounds. Defensively, Williams is able to come out on the floor to guard McDyess. The Pistons do not run any plays for McDyess, but he finds open spots on the floor when his defender helps off him. McDyess is a very accurate shooter out to 20 feet, but he has no low post game that could hurt the Hawks. The Hawks have a slight advantage depending on Marvin’s energy level.

Hawks Bench vs. Pistons Bench

One of the biggest stories of this final segment of the NBA season is going to be how effective Allen Iverson is coming off the bench for Detroit. His statistical numbers with the Pistons have been eerily similar to his numbers with the Denver Nuggets. AI can score in bunches and look for him to be on the floor in crunch time. That would mean the Pistons going with a small line up, but Prince will be able to match up with Atlanta’s forwards, because Smith and Williams will not post up.

The Pistons probably come with Jason Maxiell, Walter Herrman, and former Georgia Tech guard Will Bynum in their rotation. Maxiell is an explosive offensive rebounder and finisher around the basket. Herrmann probably sees his minutes limited, but Bynum could be a factor pressuring Flip Murray when he has to play the point.

Murray and Mo Evans can score off the Hawks bench. I keep waiting for Mo Evans to find his 3 point stroke again this season. Murray has been playing key minutes and scoring in bunches since the All Star Break. Zaza will be the Hawks post guy off the bench. (Even though the numbers do not bear it out at this time, I still think the Hawks would be better with Zaza starting and Josh Smith or Marvin Williams coming off the bench. I know it will never happen, but the matchups would be better in this series.) The scary thought for the Hawks is Maxiell flying down the court for dunks. It is a good thing that the Pistons probably will not try to push the basketball at all in this series.

Both teams have a big drop off on the defensive end when they substitute. The idea of Iverson being the main scorer for Detroit’s second unit is intriguing. With all the cameras and bright lights of the playoffs, I see him being a major factor. For the Hawks, Mo Evans can earn some minutes on the defensive end. He will have to be a defensive stopper when the Pistons go to a smaller line up. With Iverson, I give the Pistons a solid edge in bench play.

The Pistons are battle tested and have reached the Eastern Conference Finals in the last six seasons. The guys on the Hawks’ roster, except for Bibby, have never had real success in the playoffs. I just hope the AI experiment fails and the Hawks end up hosting the Heat in the 1st round. I liked the way that the Hawks matched up with the Heat last Friday.


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