The Warriors (48-14) have won four straight, but the rampaging Rockets have ripped off 13 straight victories to move percentage points ahead of the reigning NBA champions for the league’s best record and the top seed in the Western Conference.
Golden State are trying to sweep a three-game road swing against Eastern Conference opponents and are coming off a 109-101 victory over Southeast Division leaders Washington on Wednesday night. Kevin Durant scored 32 points, Stephen Curry added 25 and Draymond Green chipped in 11 and 11 assists as the Warriors have averaged 120.0 points in their four wins coming out of the All-Star break.
Atlanta (19-43) are looking for back-to-back wins after snapping a four-game losing streak with a 107-102 victory over Indiana on Wednesday night. John Collins scored 16 points to lead six players in double figures, and the opportunistic Hawks blocked a season-best 11 shots and scored 26 points off 24 Pacers turnovers while recording 13 steals.
The Hawks have alternated wins and losses in their last seven home games and have not won two consecutive games at Philips Arena since beating San Antonio and New Orleans on January 15 and 17. While Atlanta are 14-18 overall at home, they are 8-4 against Western Conference teams.
Three keys to the game
Warriors continue winning ways versus East - Golden State have won 12 straight road games versus Eastern Conference teams since their 92-88 loss at Boston on November 16 and are 21-3 overall this season in such games. Since Steve Kerr took over the Warriors for the 2014/15 season, they are 98-16 in the regular season against Eastern Conference teams, including a 5-1 mark versus Atlanta.
Yet the Hawks are solid versus the West at home - It slightly defies explanation how the Hawks have been successful at home against the Western Conference, but the biggest difference is they defend better. Atlanta have yielded just 100.3 points per game in those 12 contests, far better than their overall season mark of 108.1 per contest. They have done a good job closing out on the perimeter, limiting teams to 32.7 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Golden State dominates the third quarter - One of the keys to Golden State's success under Kerr has been their in-game adjustments from the first half to the second. The Warriors lead the league in third-quarter scoring at 30.9 points per game, and Durant delivered 15 of his points in Wednesday night's win. But lost in his offensive outburst in was an airtight defense that limited the Wizards to 14 in the entire quarter as Golden State broke open a two-point game.
Matchup to watch
PF Kevin Durant vs PF John Collins - It sounds borderline rude to say Durant is averaging a "quiet" 26.0 points, but with few exceptions, Durant does not score in bunches. He stacks play upon play upon play upon play and before anyone realizes it, a look at the box score shows him filling the stat sheet.
This will be a rough matchup for the Collins, whom the Hawks are trying to build around for the future. He has played well since re-entering the starting lineup, averaging 10.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in his last four games while shooting 54.8 percent, but his head will need to be on a swivel defensively since Golden State rely more on quick passing than how Indiana tried to break down the Hawks off the dribble Wednesday night.
Golden State Warriors projected starting lineup
PG - Stephen Curry | SG - Klay Thompson | C - Zaza Pachulia | SF - Draymond Green | PF - Kevin Durant
Atlanta Hawks projected starting lineup
PG - Dennis Schroder | SG - Kent Bazemore | C - Dewayne Dedmon | SF - Taurean Prince | PF - John Collins
Durant has scored 20 or more points in all but one of his 17 career games against Atlanta, averaging 27.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. He has shot 45.0 percent from 3-point range in those games, near his overall marksmanship of 47.3 percent.
Curry has scored 19.4 points per game in 14 lifetime matchups with the Hawks, but since the start of the 2014/15 season, that number climbs to 25.4 per contest to go with 8.2 assists per game in the last five outings.
Klay Thompson has made just 40.8 percent of his shots in ten contests versus Atlanta, but has averaged 16.4 points. In the last four games, though, he has scored at a clip of 21.5 points while hitting 16 of 44 from 3-point range.
Schroder did not make his first start against Golden State until last season, and he totaled 47 points, sinking 19 of 36 shots. He is averaging 15.1 points in seven career meetings with the Warriors.
The Warriors are 13-point favorites, which is one-half point lower than its open. Yet the large spread does not mean they will cover, as the reigning NBA champs are 8-18 against the spread in their last 26 road games when favored by 11 or more points. Golden State are also 2-6 against the spread in their last eight games but have covered in their last four when playing teams who have a losing record.
While Atlanta are 2-9-1 against the spread in their last 12 games versus Pacific Division teams, they have covered in seven of their last eight matchups against Western Conference opponents. The Hawks have failed to cover in their last seven games on Friday and looking to halt a trend in this series that has seen the road team cover in the last four meetings.
The over/under is a robust 227 points, but the under has some promising trends as it has hit in Golden State's last four games against Southeast Division teams and 10 times in the last 13 games the Warriors have played against Eastern Conference foes. The under has also come through in four of Atlanta's last five games and six times in their last seven games against Western Conference rivals.
This trip has been all about business for the Warriors, who successfully navigated around any outcry about not visiting the White House as reigning NBA champions by taking a group of children from near Durant's hometown to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture before Wednesday's victory.
The fact they are chasing the Rockets allows them to focus on something beyond defending their title in the playoffs, and without disrespecting James Harden, Chris Paul and Houston, Golden State probably view this chase as a welcome diversion to hearing any talk about possibly winning their third title in four years.
Atlanta did well defensively against Indiana, but they also played a Pacers team without pass-first point guard Darren Collison, which gave the Hawks latitude to jump passing lanes and contest the dribble. Golden State's offense is too good for Atlanta to be overly aggressive, and the Hawks have not shown a proper defensive balance enough to believe they will slow the Warriors down.
Look for Golden State to run their winning streak over Atlanta to six with a 121-105 victory.
The game will be televised locally on NBC Sports Bay Area and Fox Sports Southeast - Atlanta. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm EST.
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