Saturday evening, Dallas (2-2) travels to the great state of Georgia to take on the Atlanta Hawks (2-3). With four pre-season games remaining, Dallas looks to continue to experiment with roster chemistry while addressing problems from the loss to Phoenix Wednesday, particularly turnovers and defense. With Dirk out definitively, the team can move forward in an attempt to carve out a functional rotation.
The Hawks began their off-season by naming former Cavs General Manager Danny Ferry as head of basketball operations and general manager. Ferry wasted no time in his first two weeks, first by drafting John Jenkins with the 23rd overall pick and following that up by trading a player many thought impossible to trade in Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets. While the main goal of that trade was to rid Atlanta of Johnson's enormous contract, the trade brought back many pieces, including Deshawn Stevenson, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, and a 2017 second round trade pick. Ferry also traded forward Marvin Williams to Utah for guard Devin Harris. The Hawks also made a free agent splash in bringing in former 76er guard Louis Williams. Ferry also managed to steal sharpshooter Kyle Korver away from the Chicago Bulls
Despite the many new pieces and the departure of a main cog in their offense, the Hawks bring back a dominating forward in Josh Smith, a talented guard in Jeff Teague, and a forever underrated center in Al Horford. Josh Smith is in the final year of a large contract and is poised to put up massive numbers. Injured early last season, Horford missed most of the 2012 campaign. From all reports, he is healthy and has resumed form from his previous all star seasons (2010 and 2011, respectively). Young guard Jeff Teague enters the final year of his rookie contract looking to make a big impact on a re-tooled Hawks team.
With some finality in the decision for Dirk to undergo knee surgery, Dallas now has a chance to determine who will get significant minutes at the power forward position in his absence. Early opinion has varied, but with Chris Kaman out Saturday with a strained calf, fans may have to wait to see what the various options look like. Due to defensive preferences and limitations, the most likely option in the short term is experimenting with various small-ball line ups. According to Carlisle today, "We're going to be smallish a lot, and we're going to have to make it work for us."
Elsewhere on the floor fans will hope to see guards Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo take care of the ball; each had 3 turnovers in Wednesdays game. Also, look for O.J. Mayo to try and tighten up his defense tonight, as he's been lit up the last two games by Kevin Martin and Jared Dudley. Hopefully Vince Carter can continue his excellent shooting from the field as he adapts to becoming a catch-and-shoot threat (49% over all, 42% from three). Rookie Jae Crowder has made a strong argument for more minutes over his past two pre-season games and with the Dirk injury, Carlisle may have to get creative in his usage of the young forward. With the Kaman injury, Brand will be forced to start at center. This will open up more minutes for Brendan Wright, who has averaged just under 16 minutes per game this pre-season.
As for team play, fans should look for a renewed emphasis on team defense and communication. Dallas gave up 15 points in transition in the first half Wednesday against Phoenix and needs to give consistent effort for all forty eight minutes. Taking care of the ball on offensive will be a point of emphasis after 21 turnovers on Wednesday.
Life without Dirk is upon us. Keep the faith.