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Battle of the Best: Warriors vs Hawks Preview

The Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks provide a tonic for tanking by battling for the league's best record.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The two top teams in the NBA face off on Wednesday night at Oracle Arena, and this time the national audience gets to watch, as the Warriors and the Hawks are playing each other on ESPN. Both teams will be missing sharpshooters, with Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver out with a sprained ankle and a broken nose, respectively. Despite Thompson's absence, the Warriors will be looking forward to their chance to tie the season series up at home against their Eastern Conference counterparts.

When the two teams played each other last in Atlanta, the Hawks fought off a hot start from Thompson before taking the lead early in the second half and holding the Warriors at arms-length the rest of the way. It was a close game throughout despite Atlanta getting to the line 22 more times than the Warriors. Three-pointers from Mike Scott and former Warrior Kent Bazemore were the heartbreakers, but Scott will miss Wednesday's game due to injury.

Part of the reason the Hawks are so dangerous offensively is that they have so many shooters; seven of their players shoot above 35% from beyond the arc. Fortunately, the Warriors are well-equipped to defend the three-point line. In fact, they are ranked 4th in the league in opponent's three point percentage, holding opponents to 33% from deep. The breakdowns will occur when the Warriors have to help on Al Horford or Paul Millsap, two big men who are great at passing the ball out of the interior. At least Golden State won't have to constantly worry about a 50% three-point marksmen in Korver running around and causing problems. With a lesser threat like Bazemore taking Korver's minutes, the Warriors will be able to focus on corralling Jeff Teague, who had a team-high 23 points in their last meeting.

It sounds like Steve Kerr is going to be starting Justin Holiday in Klay Thompson's spot, and this will be the rare game where Kerr gives minutes to both Holiday and Leandro Barbosa. In the great Holiday-Barbosa debate, I'm on team Holiday due to his size and defense, but it will be good for both of them to get a run because they each may be needed in the playoffs, depending on the situation. I don't think either of them will finish this game; I suspect Kerr will finish with a lineup with Shaun Livingston at the point guard position and Stephen Curry as the off-guard. This type of lineup has been seeing more minutes, lately, and Thompson's absence makes it even more likely.

Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes were each in foul trouble the last time the teams met, and this makes them the X-factors coming into Wednesday's game. Especially with Thompson out, they will need to hit a few threes to keep Atlanta's defense honest, and if the Hawks put them into pick and roll situations defensively, they will need to do a better job of containing Teague without fouling.

Curry and Thompson both produced when these teams last met, but the Hawks' supporting cast outplayed their Warrior counterparts. That balance needs to shift for the Warriors to beat Atlanta. The Warriors have an MVP favorite, and the Hawks don't have any players who put up 30-point games. The Hawks' system wins. The Hawks win by having more players bring it every night than the other team. Every Warrior who hits the floor needs to bring it, and the rest will be gravy.

How does gravy taste on hawk? I have no clue. They're harder to catch than turkeys.

Go Warriors.