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Golden State Warriors: 5 Positives Heading into Game Against Atlanta Hawks

Nathaniel JueSenior Writer IIMarch 6, 2014

Golden State Warriors: 5 Positives Heading into Game Against Atlanta Hawks

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    john bazemore/Associated Press

    Quick—what is the record of the Atlanta Hawks this season? Are they in a playoff spot or not? Name three players on the team’s current roster.

    If you have no answers to any of these queries, do not fret. It’s not a result of your ambivalence toward the NBA; rather, it’s a direct reflection of the insubstantial performance of the Hawks so far this season.

    Possessing the eighth position in the Eastern Conference while sporting an unsightly 26-33 record is probably one of the most shrug-worthy achievements in sports. How anyone could be excited to “make” the postseason with a .441 “winning” percentage is shameful.

    Moreover, Atlanta's fanbase should feel ho-hum about the team’s performance this season and its title chances, should the Hawks actually reach the postseason.

    What’s more staggering than the Hawks’ playoff-bound placement is the fact that the Golden State Warriors are actually in the same situation but with a twist: The Dubs, with a 38-24 record, are holding onto the sixth seed out in the West. However, Golden State is only three games ahead of the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies; and ironically—or sadly—Atlanta holds an identical three-game lead over the ninth-place Detroit Pistons in the East.

    And yet the competitiveness of the Western Conference would suggest that the Warriors could have the more difficult task of securing a playoff spot.

    Hooray, NBA playoff system!

    The two teams square off against each other on Friday in Oakland, Calif. But will this be a test for the Warriors and a chance to gauge where they stand against a playoff-bound team? Or will the Dubs crush a terrible Hawks squad, as most believe they should?

    Here are five positive things for the Warriors heading into their matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.

Team Confidence

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Despite their atrocious record, the Hawks present somewhat of a scare for the Warriors—if only because Golden State has had a seemingly uncountable number of lackluster letdowns against lesser foes.

    In the past two months, the Warriors have lost to several teams with losing records—the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves come to mind. And each of those games was at home.

    Needless to say, there is more than a sliver of chance that the Hawks can come into Oracle Arena and steal a game that they have no business winning.

    But the Dubs are coming off an impressive road trip that finished with two wins in two nights, the first of which was against the team with the best record in the NBA, the Indiana Pacers. On Tuesday, the Dubs controlled most of the game against the Pacers and sneaked out with a victory on a last-second basket by Klay Thompson.

    Almost equally impressive, the Warriors did not experience a letdown on Wednesday, thoroughly manhandling the Boston Celtics.

    Given the positive vibes generated from winning the final two games of a 4-2 road trip, the Warriors should head home with a wealth of confidence—with even more aplomb than when they returned from their 6-1 road trip in January.

    How is that possible?

    The Warriors outpaced Indiana, beating the East’s best team at its own game—with defense. The starters were well-rested in the team’s blowout in Boston. Golden State has a 7-2 record since the All-Star break, including wins over the Pacers, Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets.

    With all this recent positivity, Golden State is poised to bash the lowly Hawks.

Klay Thompson's Shooting

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Speaking of positive energy, Klay Thompson must still be on cloud nine after his last-second dagger against Indiana on Tuesday.

    The third-year guard has been considered by many to be stuck in a major slump. But Warriors fans hope that his game-winner is the omen he needs to boost his confidence and help him regain his shooting stroke.

    Over his last four games, "Splash Brother Junior" is averaging 20 points while shooting 44.8 percent from the field—a considerably warmer touch than his numbers in the months of January and February (16.1 points per game, 40.5 percent from the floor.)

    That’s the thing about his numbers: Although some might say he’s struggling and underachieving, his stats closely mirror his career marks. What’s most important for a streaky shooter like Thompson is not wondering if he will get hot again—it’s all a matter of when.

    Now is the time.

    Golden State’s bench is providing much more depth at the guard position, with the additions of Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake. This gives Thompson the opportunity to be more efficient with his playing time.

    He scored 18 points in just 28 minutes against Boston, 25 in 29 minutes against New York and 19 in only 29 minutes against Detroit. This added rest should prove to be more helpful to him during the Warriors’ stretch run.

    Against the Hawks in Atlanta in January, he scored 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting. Even better news for Warriors fans is Atlanta allows opponents to shoot 37.2 percent from three-point land, which is sixth-worst in the league (40.2 percent on the road, the second-worst mark).

    Will Thompson torch the Hawks on Friday? If so, it should be a scorcher at Oracle Arena.

Draymond Green's Defense

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Speaking of improved bench play, the recent performances of Draymond Green have been invaluable for the Warriors. Since the All-Star break, the second-year reserve forward is averaging more than nine points per game (including in one start against Brooklyn). His season scoring average is 5.5 points per game.

    However, his contributions go far beyond his scoring output. He is such a vital cog to the team’s highly rated defense.

    Averaging a tick above 20 minutes player per game, he is an incredible force in his abbreviated playing time. He ranks 29th in the league in blocks per 48 minutes, in between defensive stalwarts Joakim Noah and Josh Smith. Green is also averaging 1.8 steals in his last 10 games.

    Overall, his defensive rating of 97, which is the second-best number on the team behind only Andrew Bogut. Clearly, Green’s ability to defend power forwards, small forwards and guards is a tremendous strength for the second unit. And it has earned the trust of coach Mark Jackson, as the second unit has received an increase in playing time.

    That is good news for the entire roster, as Golden State’s rotation is rounding out into form for the postseason stretch.

Healthy Jermaine O’Neal

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Speaking of increased playing time for bench players, Jermaine O’Neal is logging a ton of minutes of late, even as a backup center. After starting seven straight games in February while subbing in for the injured Andrew Bogut and David Lee, O’Neal has returned to the bench for the last three games. But he is still averaging more than 21 minutes per game, providing a lift to the second unit.

    The sage veteran is averaging nearly 10 points per game since returning to the club in February after missing several weeks of games due to an injured wrist. During those 11 games, he has started seven of them. He has collected two double-doubles, and most importantly the team has won eight games with him in the lineup.

    Having him in the lineup and along the bench has been an asset to the team’s confidence. No longer does Bogut have to play 30-plus minutes per game. He can remain fresh, more efficient and, most importantly, healthy with O’Neal backing him up. And Coach Jackson can trust that if either of them is in foul trouble, the other will perform adequately and admirably.

    Golden State is clearly a better team with O’Neal back in the rotation. Though he isn’t a true member of the team’s #fullsquad, the Dubs know that having him in the mix is important to the team’s success.

    In fact, the Warriors are 18-10 in games that O’Neal has played in this season. That translates to a 50-win season for a playoff-minded ballclub.

    As long as O’Neal remains healthy enough to play, the Warriors’ winning ways should continue.

Atlanta’s Losing Streak

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Speaking of winning streaks, the Atlanta Hawks are not on one. In fact, Atlanta enters Friday’s contest having lost four straight and 12 of its last 13 games.

    As a result of their horrendous stretch, the Hawks have plummeted to the eighth spot in the East, barely hanging onto that coveted last playoff spot. With a season-ending injury to center Al Horford and a knee contusion that has held out power forward Paul Millsap for the past five games, the two leading scorers have missed a considerable number of games.

    That has left Atlanta to fend for itself with a starting lineup that includes DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott (not the fireball right-hander for the Houston Astros, who would be more of a weapon, probably). Throw in a Jurassic Elton Brand, and the Hawks are flying low nowadays.

    On paper, the Warriors should dominate this matchup. But on the court is a different story. Yes, Atlanta is 9-22 on the road. Yes, the Hawks are 8-14 against the West. Yes, they are surrendering 105.9 points per game on the road, which is fourth-worst in the league.
    But…

    Wait, there’s no but. The Warriors are brimming with confidence and back to running on all cylinders, particularly with a more well-rounded unit that includes a solid backup point guard in Steve Blake and a healthy Jermaine O’Neal. The Hawks, meanwhile, are flying with clipped wings, nosediving toward the finish line as their stranglehold on a playoff spot continues to slip out of their talons.

    This should be a no-contest victory for the Dubs.

    And it will be.

     

    Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue

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