The Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks both came into the season with relatively high expectations, just on different scales. Utah was expected to leap into the championship picture. The additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic were supposed to vault Utah into the upper tier of Western Conference contenders, especially now that the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty is officially over.
The Hawks, meanwhile, were expected by many to challenge for a lower seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Atlanta rebounded from a sluggish start last season to put together a pretty respectable record by season’s end a year ago. While that didn’t amount to a playoff berth, another year of Trae Young and John Collins developing together was supposed to mean more wins for the Hawks in 2019-20.
Needless to say, things haven’t gone quite according to plan for either club. Utah is still 5 games over .500 at 16-11, but Conley has struggled and now he’s dealing with another hamstring injury. The Jazz are just sixth in the West thus far, which is lower where many thought they’d be.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has been an unmitigated disaster. The Hawks are just 6-22 and they enter Thursday night’s game riding a 5-game losing streak. Things really came to a head in the Hawks’ last game on Tuesday, when they were absolutely crushed by a Knicks team that may be even worse than they are. The Hawks lost by 23 points and were never competitive, which got people whispering about the potential hot seat for head coach Lloyd Pierce.
Conley had missed the past several games with a hamstring injury before returning for Wednesday’s game against the Magic. Unfortunately, he re-aggravated the injury after playing just 19 minutes, and the team says he’s going to need a few additional weeks to recover. Conley hadn’t been in the finest form even before the injury, but the fact that he’ll be sidelined again just means it’s going to take him even longer to continue to adapt to playing with his new teammates.
In the meantime, we can expect another heavy dosage of Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell put up 30 points in the win over Orlando, and he has really upped his game with Conley on the sidelines over the past few weeks. The third-year guard is averaging a career-high in scoring (25.2 points per game) while shooting just south of 36 percent from beyond the arc.
Conley’s absence also likely means additional opportunities for Utah’s supporting cast. Joe Ingles, who has really struggled in general this season, will be tasked with more of the playmaking duties. Ingles is only averaging 8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on the season, but so far in December the Aussie is up to 12 points, 6.3 assists and just under 5 rebounds while shooting nearly 53 percent from downtown.
The Jazz rank just 21st in the league in offensive efficiency, but they should have an easier time putting the ball in the basket against this porous Hawks defense. Atlanta is 28th in defensive rating, allowing 112 points per 100 possessions. Only the Cavaliers and Wizards have been worse thus far. We typically think of Utah as a slow-paced team under Quin Snyder, but they’re actually 10th in the league in pace over the last month of play.
Young the Giant
Trae Young isn’t among the biggest players in the league, but he certainly has a presence. The second-year guard is really the only positive aspect of the Hawks’ dreadful start. With Collins having been suspended for 25 games for performance-enhancing drugs, Young has really had to take the reins of the Hawks’ offense.
It hasn’t resulted in many wins, but the former Oklahoma star is putting up some gaudy individual numbers. Young finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Luka Doncic last season, and he’s improved considerably in his second pro campaign. The 21-year-old is averaging a robust 28.3 points per game in addition to 8.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds. For good measure, he’s shooting nearly 38 percent from long range, which is a considerable improvement over the 32.4 percent mark he posted as a rookie.
Collins will return soon, but the Hawks have probably dug themselves into too deep a hole to climb out at this point. Pierce’s job reportedly isn’t in any serious jeopardy, which is smart. Pierce isn’t responsible for building this terrible roster.
Atlanta is incredibly young. In addition to a second-year player in Young, the Hawks are relying on a pair of rookies (De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish) to log heavy minutes while another second-year guy (Kevin Huerter) joins Young in the backcourt. The most experienced players (other than old man Vince Carter) in the rotation are Alex Len and Jabari Parker. Len is 26, Parker is 24.
I can’t really shake the feeling that this spread feels like a total trap. The Atlanta Hawks has been one of the worst teams in basketball this season. While the Jazz haven’t been quite as good as I thought they would be, it’s still weird that they’re only 6.5-point favorites here. If this game were in Utah, the Jazz would surely be favored by double digits.
I’m still going to take the Jazz here. The spread is just too small given the gap in quality between the teams. Even with Conley sidelined, Utah should have little issue getting past a team like Atlanta that couldn’t even give the Knicks a competitive game.
The clear choice is to bet the Jazz to cover here, even if it feels like bait.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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