Sixers vs Hawks: Can the Sixers Continue Their Winning Ways?

The Sixers will look to continue their strong play tonight against Mike Budenholzer and the 21-15 Atlanta Hawks.

Mike Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks will take on the Philadelphia 76ers tonight | Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks will take on the Philadelphia 76ers tonight | Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After winning three of their first six games with newly acquired point guard Ish Smith, the real test for the Sixers begins tonight.

Sure, the Sixers will play their next five games at the Wells Fargo Center, a welcome sight for a team that just finished off a six game road trip during the holiday break. But the next four games come against the the best the Eastern Conference has to offer, as the Sixers will take on the Hawks (21-15), Raptors (22-15), Cavaliers (24-9), and Bulls (21-12).

The game tonight against the Atlanta Hawks features a pair of Gregg Popovich disciples squaring off against each other, Elton Brand‘s first game in a Sixers uniform coming against his former team, and the potential return of Malik Rose, albeit briefly, to the Wells Fargo Center. But it will be how the Sixers can fare against a complete team that will be the most interesting plot line.

The Details:

What: Sixers (4-33) vs Hawks (21-15)

Where: Wells Fargo Center

When: 7 PM

Watch: Comcast SportsNet

Projected Starting Lineups: 

Sixers: Ish Smith, JaKarr Sampson, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor

Hawks: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap, Al Horford

(Note: Official starting lineups are released approximately an hour before the game).

Injury Report:

Joel Embiid (out, right foot).

About The Opponent:

The Hawks won 60 games for the first time in franchise history last season, and built on that success to reach the Eastern Conference Finals before being swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Hawks then started off the 2015-16 season looking poised to reach the 60 win plateau once again, with victories 7 of their first 8 games.

After a small skid — the Hawks went 5-8 immediately following that 7-1 start — the Hawks have since rebounded with a six game winning streak which was ignited by a 127-106 win over the Sixers on December 16th.

The Hawks are led by a balanced scoring attack which features five players in double figures in scoring, with Paul Millsap‘s 18.3 points per game leading the way. He’s followed by Jeff Teague (15.5), Al Horford (15.3), Kent Bazemore (12.9), and Dennis Schroder (10.4), with Kyle Korver (9.6) just missing the cut.

Heading into this year Kyle Korver had shot an incredible 47.4% on his 1,255 three point attempts with the Atlanta Hawks, but he has run into relatively tough times of late. Korver is shooting “just” 35.4% from three point range on the season, thanks in large part to a slump over the last ten games where he’s shooting just 27.9% from deep, despite taking 6.1 three point attempts per game over that span.

Still, the Hawks feature a top-10 offense (105.8 points per 100 possessions according to Basketball-Reference, which ranks 9th in the league) along with a solid (14th ranked) defense. They assist on 65.7% of their made field goals, which ranks second in the NBA behind only the Golden State Warriors, once again having the kind of excellent floor spacing and ball movement that makes them difficult to defend.

What To Look For:

Some of the individual matchups will be interesting to watch, specifically how the Sixers defend the Hawks’ big men duo. Millsap has the kind of size to allow head coach Brett Brown to go with the two-big man lineup, but the perimeter game Millsap has added over the last few seasons could cause a little bit of trouble.

What could be more interesting to watch than individual matchups is how the Sixers are able to defend the spacing and ball movement that makes Atlanta unique. Pulling the Sixers’ defenders into space and forcing them to communicate and rotate has frequently been the Sixers’ Achilles heal, and the Hawks do this as well as anybody.

Offensively, all eyes will be on Ish Smith and how he can impact the Sixers’ big men, especially since this is a game where both Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel could see time together on the court. And, after seeing Richaun Holmes score 25 points over his last two games, this is another game where he could see some extended run, and hopefully continue his streak of excellent play.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.