Never-Ending NBA Preview: Between a Hawk and a hard place


The NBA season is here. It has been here for a while. With that in mind, it is time to flip through the book on the 2013-14 season and to take a look at what the season has had in store — especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year's NBA Blog Preview (don't worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks … months … this preview IS never-ending, afterall).

Atlanta Hawks
Last Year/This Year: 44-38/17-13

Last Year vs. Magic: Hawks won 81-72 in Atlanta on Nov. 19; Hawks won 86-80 in Orlando on Dec. 12; Hawks won 108-76 in Orlando on Feb. 13; Hawks won 97-88 in Atlanta on March 30
This Year vs. Magic: Hawks 104, Magic 94 in Atlanta on Nov. 9; Magic 109, Hawks 92 in Atlanta on Nov. 26; Dec. 29 in Orlando; Jan. 22 in Orlando

Magic Connection: Gustavo Ayon (Player, 2012-13)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/Zimbio

The Previews: Kris Willis/PeachTree Hoops

For much of the past six years, mediocrity has defined the Hawks and their organization.

Atlanta was good enough to make the Playoffs every year with a decent core that featured Al Horford, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, but one not good enough to do much more than make a cameo or win the occasional first round series. This year's Eastern Conference is not allyaing any of those fears or feelings as the Hawks are that last of three teams sitting above .500 in the conference through Dec. 28.

For all intents and purposes, however, that core is completely gone. The Hawks shipped Johnson and his massive contract to Brooklyn as part of the team's rebuilding efforts. Danny Ferry then let Josh Smith walk in free agency. And now Al Horford is out for four months with a torn pectoral (again), halting his All-Star caliber season.

Yet, Atlanta finds a way to continue to win. Ferry has put together a team that plays well together, spreads the floor extremely well and makes shots.

At the same time, though, this is a team that is not winning any championships any time soon. The Hawks though were not your typical team with cap space. They did not use it all and what they did use they kept flexible. Paul Millsap was the big "replacement," if you will, for Smith and he is on a reasonable two-year $19.5 million deal.

Every player seems to be on a similarly reasonable, short-term contract meaning the Hawks are positioning themselves to make a big deal and get better fairly quickly.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/Zimbio

Of course, that is not what this team is completely about. This is still a very solid team with shooters who can spread the floor in Kyle Korver, Mike Scott and (apparently) Pero Antic. Except for Korver, those are not household names when it comes to 3-point shooters.

And now with Horford out, more of the onus will fall on Jeff Teague.

Teague has really stepped his game up so far this season and has played at a near-All Star level as well. He has done a very good job creating for his teammates, pushing the pace, working the pick and roll and making jumpers. That was a big weakness of his for a really long time. Now Playoff Teague seems like an every night occurrence.

It will have to be for Atlanta to keep things going with Horford likely out until the late stages of the season.

Atlanta wanted a lot of these "other" players to get the chance to step up with their rotating core. Even Millsap needed some experience in a new offense and a new role to see what he could really do as a player. This season has been all about seeing what these players can do. So far it seems like a fair amount.

The question remains for this organization: What does the future hold?

How the Hawks Will Beat the Magic: The Hawks topped the Magic in the first meeting fo the season by pushing the pace and taking advantage of mistakes the Magic had made. Orlando turned the ball over, missed free throws and missed shots. The typical things Orlando does when it loses. So it seems for the Hawks to beat the Magic, they have to push the pace and try to catch the Magic in transition. This might go double with Al Horford out of the lineup and that post advantage gone. The Hawks have the athletes to run and the point guard to control the tempo. Teague will be key for the Hawks moving forward.

How the Magic Will Beat the Hawks: What Orlando did in its win was move the ball. This is always the key with the Magic. They have to attack from the inside out and move the ball around. If the Magic get stuck doing post isos or hav ethe ball one end of the floor, obviously things will turn out bad for them. The Hawks are a solid defensive team and so breaking them down will not be easy. But it will take good passing to do so and the willingness to be aggressive and attack. Atlanta's post defense certainly will take a hit with Horford out.