Mar. 1, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; NBA official Rodney Mott (71) separates Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) and Atlanta Hawks forward Ivan Johnson (44) as players watch on in the second half at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Hawks 92-87. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Phoenix Suns(22-43) vs. Atlanta Hawks(35-29)

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If the Los Angeles Lakers goes on to miss the playoffs due to Kobe Bryant missing a few games or not playing as well after the ankle injury, and the Phoenix Suns gets the Lakers lottery pick as a result, the Phoenix Suns need to send the Hawks a fruit basket.

The Hawks are fresh off a close win against Lakers while the Suns are fresh off a 30-point blowout loss against the Houston Rockets.

“That’s probably the first time I felt we didn’t compete as a unit and that is just unacceptable,” Hunter. “It’s embarrassing. These are the situations you get put in when you really find out who’s going to be with you and who isn’t. Nothing is promised for none of us here so our guys have to compete like every day is our last and I didn’t see that tonight.”

Going into tonight’s game, the Hawks are the favorites over the Suns by a 8.5 point margin according to ESPN.com. The Hawks have Josh Smith, and Jeff Teague listed as day-to-day, they are both probable for tonight’s game. The Hawks will be without center Zaza Pachulia who’s been out the last six games. The Suns have Jermaine O’Neal listed as day-to-day, he’s probable for tonight’s game, and of course the Suns will be without Marcin Gortat.

Keys to the game: Suns

  • Contain Al Horford. Horford has been a force since the all-star break averaging 21.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and has shot a blistering 60% from the field, well above his season averages.
  • Give different looks defensively. The Hawks despite the talent they have on offense are a relatively unimpressive offensive team. The Hawks are just 17th in the NBA in scoring averaging 97.1 points per game.

Keys to the game: Hawks

  • Guard the perimeter! The Suns with their new starting line-up of the Morris twins, Luis Scola, Wes Johnson and Goran Dragic, all five guys in that starting line-up is capable of draining 20-footers.
  • Give it to Horford. Why? Because Luis Scola or anyone else can’t guard him.
  • Force turnovers. The Suns are a sloppy team. The Suns average 15.4 turnovers per game which is ranked 26th in the league.
The X-Factor! 
  • Three-point shooting. With their new starting line-up, the Suns three-point shooting has become more potent, but they’re still awful at defending the three-point line allowing opponents to shoot nearly  40% from beyond the arc, which is the worst mark in the league. The Hawks has been a terrific three-point shooting team season ranking third in three-pointers made per game behind only the Knicks and Rockets.
Match-up of the night! 
  • I’m intrigued by the match-up between the power forwards, Markieff Morris and Josh Smith. Morris has to learn to improve defensively, and guarding an offensive force such as Josh Smith will be a huge test for Morris.

 

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