Two teams on very notable winning streaks. Two teams with extended branches from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree. Two fun teams to watch. Two teams improving in record and performance as the season progresses. Two teams with red, white, and blue color schemes. Two teams that should approve of the Oxford comma use in my last sentence.
And that's where the similarities end, when the Sixers take on the Hawks in Atlanta tonight. The Sixers, a team built on athleticism, takes on the Hawks, a team built on skill level. One team is built to win now, the other built to win later. One relies on shooting, spacing, and driving-and-kicking drive success. The other hopes that works but has a historically awful offense as a result.
The Hawks are at the top of the NBA standings. The Sixers are (almost) at the bottom. The Hawks whip the ball around the court, and are second in the league in assists per game. The Sixers also pass a ton, but the results don't show it - fifth worst total in the league.
Causal relationships aside, because of course since the Sixers struggle to score and that will deflate assist totals, the Hawks passes feel like they have more meaning to them. And that's because of the skill level I mentioned above. Atlanta has maybe two people on the roster who aren't threats from any reasonable location in a half-court game. A pass is always going to a good shooter or passer or driver. The Sixers' passing feels emptier because the skills aren't there for people who receive those passes. They can't make those mean something. JaKarr Sampson won't hurt you from the corners like DeMarre Carroll or Mike Scott or (gulp) Kyle Korver. This Hawks team can be trusted to gut you.
The teams run a very similar playbook - in a game earlier this year, the team's frequently called out each others' plays. And in that game, skill overcame youthful athleticism. I imagine the same will happen tonight, though I do enjoy when the Hawks die. Don't mind me conflating the teams, I'm a Temple grad.
If the Sixers do want a chance, they'll need a combination of luck and smart defense to win. Atlanta's defense is almost as excellent as their other-worldly offense, but you can imagine a bit of slack, playing a second of a back-to-back. The Sixers, if recent trends hold up, might be able to score well enough to stand a chance. On the other end, the team will need a performance like last night's out of Nerlens Noel, and they'll need to take smart chances in passing lanes only, since opportunity for stupidity in that regard is very, very present. Play somewhat conservatively, use wingspan and athleticism to close-out on shooters and recover to the paint, and the team might have a chance.
Someone's streak needs to break tonight. While unlikely, let's hope it's Atlanta's.