The NBA action has been slow to kick off after the All-Star break, but after a two-game slate on Thursday night, the action starts to kick off properly on Friday. Arguably the highlight of that action is the Eastern conference’s top two teams tipping off with the Toronto Raptors visiting the Atlanta Hawks.
Neither team made any changes at the NBA trade deadline after enjoying their best pre-All Star break performances in a long-time. The Hawks enter the game looking for their best home winning streak in 18 years, while the Raptors are chasing a best road run since 2001-02.
A lot has been made about the Atlanta Hawks “coming back down to Earth” after they went 3-3 before the All-Star break. Of course that did follow a franchise record 19-game winning streak and even the 3-3 run included wins over the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards. Atlanta had four representatives at last weekend’s festivities with Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver all representing the East. They’ll hope that those players have enjoyed some rest earlier this week. The Hawks rely on team chemistry and will need to maintain momentum after the break if they are going to hold off the likes of the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, not to mention closest rival and tonight’s opponent – Toronto.
Ultimately, the Hawks do not rely on any single player, but they also cannot lean on any single player. In a surprising loss to the Boston Celtics before the All-Star break, Teague, Millsap and Korver all shot poorly. In their shutdown defeat at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies two games earlier, it was Horford who managed only 2-11 shooting. Expect Horford and Millsap to be heavily involved in this game as coach Mike Budenholzer aims to open up opportunities on the inside to open up the team’s options on the outside.
The Raptors have proven that they are a legitimate force to be reckoned with. They may not feature in the discussions around the Eastern conference contenders, but their form suggests that it won’t be too long before they are. Heading into the All-Star break, Toronto grabbed three straight wins beating the LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards. All three victories came with home court advantage, but Dwane Casey’s team has won nine of their past 11 games on the road.
Casey is confident switching his lineup around to play small ball when he deems it necessary. James Johnson and Amir Johnson featured heavily against the Spurs, while in a more open game against the Wizards, the team occasionally threw out three-guard sets on the court. This team generally relies on one of Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan to lead them offensively, they average 18.6 and 18.3 points per game respectively.
Betting Preview: Toronto (+4.5) at Atlanta
It’s a good sized spread considering the fact that the Hawks have come back down to earth since their 19-game winning run and that Toronto are second place in the Eastern conference. It’s difficult to assess whether what the impact will be, if any, of four Atlanta players taking part in the All-Star game. Both teams enter the game healthy with a stretch run in mind. As good as Budenholzer’s team is at home, we’re going to suggest that the odds have been a little disrespectful to a very talented Toronto team on this occasion. Take the points with a very good road team on this one.
The Pick: Toronto (+4.5) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 26-19