NBA Saturday Night Betting Preview: Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls

Taj Gibson may be a target for a lot of teams at the trade deadline.
Taj Gibson may be a target for a lot of teams at the trade deadline.

Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls
Time: 8:05 PM ET
TV: WGN, League Pass
Spread: ATL -3.5
M/L: ATL -155; CHI +135
Total: 201

The Atlanta Hawks have drawn the label as the “Spurs of the East.” Given the intelligent and ordered play of its offense, the comparison isn’t entirely invalid. Atlanta, the forgotten NBA city, is hosting a team which has now won its last 11 contests. Entering Chicago may prove tough. The Bulls, however, have gone just 5-5 SU over its last 10 games, and Atlanta is 16-5 on the road this season. NBA oddsmakers see that as reason enough to favor the Hawks by 3.5 points in this affair, while the total is set at 201.

Atlanta really does it well on both ends of the court. The Hawks have the stingiest ‘D’ in the league, allowing just 96.6 points per game. But the Hawks also have the 7th highest scoring offense (103.2) and rank 2nd in the league in assists per game (25.7). Both are a testament to the hot shooting of Hawks perimeter players and the fact players know how to account for one another offensively, and defensively.

The once lightly regarded Kyle Korver has become a bit more than a sharpshooter now. He’s still only scoring 12 points per game, but there’s something to be said about a player who takes nearly six threes a game at a 52.7 percent clip. It opens up the offense for point guard Jeff Teague, who is averaging 17.4 points per game.

Paul Millsap has a target when he gets doubled, and Teague, Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll have proven to be far more effective NBA players than most knew they could be.

Dennis Schroder, once the butt of all forehead jokes, is having a great season for himself too, playing behind Teague. Schroder is posting an about average PER, but the eye test has revealed a player who could be a major spark plug in the second unit in years to come. The Hawks are kind of a collection of players kicked aside, who have all come together to be better than the sum of its parts.

And while the Bulls embody this concept, as well, Chicago is a team with a lot more talent, bigger names, and a (sometimes) overly demanding coach. Jimmy Butler is having a fantastic season, but he’s also being worked for 40 minutes a game, and that is what led to Derrick Rose’s injury.

Tom Thibodeau sacrifices his players’ health for regular season wins, and that may eventually prove to be Chicago’s undoing again. The Bulls have rested Rose on the second of back-to-backs, and his body seems to be holding up OK, but he still only shows flashes of the old Rose.

Sometimes he shows those flashes for a few minutes. But he doesn’t take over entire games yet, and he may never again. With Butler all but capable of that himself, it may be a moot point. But if Thibbs works Butler’s knees down to the bone and destroys his body, what will it matter? Pau Gasol has revitalized himself and he still knew he could play so getting a better opportunity in an offense that works well with his strength has been enough. The Spaniard was poorly utilized by possibly the worst coach in NBA history (Mike D’Antoni) in Los Angeles, and his career seems to have taken on a renewed purpose.

That purpose of course is bringing Chicago another title, but for this regular season game, oddsmakers rightly favor the Hawks who just can’t seem to play bad basketball, much like the true San Antonio Spurs. It’s the system, not the players, in other words.

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