David Butler II/US Presswire
Brandon Bass delivers a dunk last season against the Hawks.The Boston Celtics (15-17, 5-11 away) visit the Atlanta Hawks (20-11, 11-5 home) on Saturday evening at Philips Arena (7 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:
* KEEP IT GOING: The Celtics are coming off their best defensive effort of the season and, having reassembled their preferred starting lineup from last season, you can see their confidence has already jumped up a notch. But until this team sustains a winning streak, there's little to celebrate. Boston was brilliant on Christmas Day, then went through a butt-whopping car wash out west. The Celtics absolutely have to maintain their defensive intensity on the second night of a back-to-back in Atlanta. A winning streak -- even of just two games -- would do wonders for this team, particularly with an Atlantic Division showdown looming on Monday in New York.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: Offensively, the Hawks rank ninth in the league while averaging 0.934 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. The Hawks are middle-of-the-pack in the half-court set, so Boston has to keep them out of transition (fourth best in NBA). Both Josh Smith and Jeff Teague have struggled with their efficiency on offense and the Hawks have leaned heavily on Al Horford (0.99 ppp, 83rd percentile) and Lou Williams (0.985 ppp, 82nd percentile). The Celtics also have to keep an eye on Kyle Korver and his 3-point shot (with help from the triple, he's actually in the 98th percentile among all players at 1.127 ppp). Defensively, the Hawks are also ninth overall. Teague is the weak link (0.975 ppp, 16th percentile) as Atlanta is getting solid individual numbers from the rest of its top rotation players.
* CLOSER LOOK AT THE HAWKS: Strength of schedule suggests the Hawks have feasted on some lesser competition to this point and Atlanta enters off a disappointing loss in Detroit on Friday night (so it won't have an edge as both teams had late-night travel in advance of Saturday's game). The Hawks do turn opponents over (a 14.9 percent turnover rate is fifth in the league) and Boston can't get careless with the ball. The Hawks also shoot the 3-ball well -- an area the Celtics have struggled to defend lately -- and Boston can't let Korver get going from behind the stripe.
* A PLAYOFF FOE: The Celtics are in the middle of a little three-game stretch against teams they could very well see in the Eastern Conference playoffs (Pacers, Hawks, Knicks). Boston hasn't given opponents much reason to fear it with inconsistent play to this point, but this is a chance to re-establish a little bit of that missing swagger.