• The Wolves took care of business in their one-game homestand and head right back out on the road, this time against another Eastern Conference foe.

    It’s been a difficult season for the Atlanta Hawks. After slowly losing their core that won 60 games three years ago, the final nail in the coffin was Paul Millsap walking as a free agent.

    The Hawks were the darling of the east when they were led by Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, with young Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder coming off the bench.

    First Carroll walked and sought big money, then Horford followed suit the next offseason. Teague was traded after Horford left, opening the way for Schroder. Then Korver was traded at the deadline of the next season, and finally Millasp walked at the conclusion of the year.

    The Hawks’ win total has decreased every season since these moves have occurred, which is expected. This year has been the sharpest drop off though. They still have made the playoffs each of the past three years, but this year they are on pace to finish dead last in the entire league.

    Losing five starters in three years is tough, but when each player was carefully crafted and integrated into the style of play head coach Mike Budenholzer wants to employ, it makes their departure sting even more. Now Budenholzer is working with a young group of players who lack the polish of his former group.

    Despite the lost season the Hawks have plenty to look forward to in the future. They have the aforementioned Schroder along with promising young players like Taurean Prince and John Collins, both of whom look to be defensive studs in a few years.

    They also own three first round picks in next years’ draft. In addition to their own, which should be near the top, they own the rights to Houston’s pick and the Wolves’ pick. That’s as of right now as well. After the deadline they could be adding a couple more.

    As of this game though, the Wolves have a golden opportunity to wrap up a road win. They have struggled on the road versus their east counterparts, going 2-6 in the east coast road games so far. Against the worst team in the east they must take care of business, because on the horizon they face off with the Toronto Raptors.

    The Hawks are a good 3-point shooting team, ranking in the top-10 in percentage, but everywhere else they struggle. They aren’t efficient shooting the ball inside the arc, they turn the ball over often and they are the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA.

    The Hawks show some signs of being a solid defensive team, and they have a lot of promise in that area long term, but for now they still remain inconsistent at best.

    With Butler back in the fold and the team at full strength, expect the Wolves to take care of business.

    Key Matchup:

    – Jeff Teague vs. Dennis Schroder

    These two players went at each other everyday for years in practice. Now they’re facing off as foes.

    Schroder is probably the best player on the Hawks at the moment. The talented 24-year-old guard leads the team in points and assists, but he has shown there is a lot to his game he needs to work on. His shooting numbers have fallen off this season, though seemingly more due to bad luck.

    He’s shooting just 29.5 percent from 3-point range, down from 34 percent last year and the worst since his rookie season, but he’s still shooting okay from the mid-range at 45.3 percent. Despite his poor 3-point percentage, he’s averaging 19.6 points per game and is a threat in the paint and off the dribble.

    Dennis has the speed advantage on Jeff and will likely utilize it a lot. He will, however, give plenty back on the defensive end. Schroder has arguably stepped back as a defender the past couple of seasons, though he’s up against the starters every night now as opposed to bench guards that he easily feasted on.

    Teague was extremely passive in the Wolves’ last game, so much so that he told Thibs to keep Tyus Jones in the game as the final quarter was winding down. The Wolves could use his aggressive approach in this game to make sure he gets his confidence back for their next game.

    Lineups:

    Jeff Teague – PG

    Jimmy Butler – SG

    Andrew Wiggins – SF

    Taj Gibson – PF

    Karl-Anthony Towns – C

    vs.

    Dennis Schroder – PG

    Kent Bazemore – SG

    Taurean Prince – SF

    Ersan Ilyasova – PF

    Miles Plumlee – C

    Injuries:

    DeAndre’ Bembry (groin) – OUT

    Where to Watch:

    7:30 ET/6:30 CT on Fox Sports North

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