NBA Playoff
NBA Playoff Preview 2021: #4 New York Knicks vs #5 Atlanta Hawks (Ariel Stull / Vendetta Sports Media)

NBA Playoff Preview 2021: #4 New York Knicks vs #5 Atlanta Hawks

There is nothing quite like NBA playoff basketball, and with the postseason on the horizon, it is the perfect time to examine playoff matchups. The Knicks and Hawks are matched up in the first round, and both teams have strong cases for moving on. After starting a rebuild in 2017, Atlanta is finally back in the NBA playoffs, partly due to their electric offense led by Trae Young and John Collins, while the Knicks, led by presumable All-NBA selection Julius Randle, ended an 8-year postseason hiatus with incredible 3-point-shooting and defense. Both of these teams can also point to coaching changes as a reason for their success, as new hires Tom Thibodeau and Nate McMillan have galvanized their respective teams into fighting for the playoff positions they find themselves in today. However, only one can advance.

Why The Knicks Win The Series

For starters, the Knicks have the best defense in the NBA. Under Thibodeau’s two-way coaching style, New York allowed 104.9 points per game, the fewest in the NBA and 2 points fewer than the second-place Utah Jazz. The Knicks also had the Hawks’ number during the regular season, winning all three of their matchups. Two of Randle’s best games came against Atlanta, including a 40 point outing and a 44 point outing in the two most recent matchups between the teams. While the Hawks have some talented defenders, they will have a tough time stopping the inside-out threat that Randle has become in 2021. Randle is sure to be fired up, as the series will be his first playoff series in his seven seasons in the league, and the Hawks will also have to contend with the Knicks’ collection of skilled guards, including RJ Barrett, Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, and Alec Burks. Yesterday, I wrote about how the Knicks will need to pick up stars in the near future, but it looks like they’re doing just fine with what they have been given.

Why The Hawks Win The Series

The Atlanta Hawks are a much-improved team under McMillan. After former head coach Lloyd Pierce was fired following a 14-20 start by the team, Atlanta ended the season red-hot under McMillan, going on a 27-11 run. Atlanta also has plenty of scorers, like Young, Kevin Huerter, Lou Williams, all of whom are capable of torching the Knicks on any given night. When he is on his game, Young will be a particularly potent problem for New York to hone in on. His elite combination of shot creation and playmaking might get the Knicks into deep trouble – Young has the potential to shine in his first-ever playoff appearance. Beyond Atlanta’s proficient scorers, new addition Clint Capela has been a revelation at the rim, leading the NBA in blocks per game and turning the Hawks into a top-five team in rebounding this season.

My Prediction

Knicks in 6. As great as Capela has been for Atlanta, Nerlens Noel is a capable matchup, not to mention that he came out of nowhere to snatch second place in the league in blocks per game this season. Despite McMillan at the helm, however, Atlanta could not find a suitable answer for Julius Randle, and he dominated them all season. One more player the Hawks must keep their eye on is Barrett. After significantly improving his shooting numbers, both from deep and the free-throw line, he could emerge as a genuine star this postseason. Barrett’s combination of scoring, athleticism, improved defense, and his newfound shooting touch, alongside Randle’s superb play, might simply bury the Hawks.

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