Why scouts think Hawks may be too much for Knicks in NBA playoffs
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Westgate SuperBook Sports in Las Vegas plans to post the Hawks as slight two-thirds favorites over the Knicks in their best-of-seven first-round series. And many NBA scouts tend to agree the Hawks’ firepower might be too much for the Knicks’ rugged defense.
The Knicks own a 3-0 regular-season series sweep and have home-court advantage, starting with Game 1 either Saturday and Sunday. But the Hawks have superstar point guard Trae Young surrounded by gifted perimeter shooters.
“Will their vaunted regular-season defense be such an important factor against a very offensively talented Hawks team?” one Eastern Conference scout told The Post. “I’m picking Atlanta. I have been a big believer in the Hawks since Nate (McMillan) took over. They are the more talented team, especially offensively.
“Philosophically, I believe that having more offensive, playoff-type weapons – guys who create one’s shot – gives them the an edge over a slogging offensive team that relies on defense like the Knicks.”
Of course, playoff beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There’s a faction who swear defense and rebounding wins championships, though that got staler with the prominence of the 3-point shot.
The Knicks led the league in 3-point defense (33.7 percent). Atlanta has 3-point snipers in Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, upstate New York product Kevin Huerter and trade-deadline pickup Lou Williams. In addition, John Collins has emerged as a budding star again as a “stretch 4.”
While the Hawks players have limited playoff experience, same goes for the Knicks, whose engine is Julius Randle. The Knicks southpaw point forward will play his first playoff game this weekend, in his seventh season. Randle averaged 37 points against Atlanta in three games, with two 40-point contests.
“The biggest concern still is who else will score late besides Randle,” the Eastern scout said.
As impressive a second season 20-year-old swingman RJ Barrett has weaved, he hasn’t always been a late-game sniper and has a streaky side.
“RJ has had bad first halves a lot of the season,” another talent evaluator said. “That could catch up to them. Randle and Barrett, are they going to hit the game-winner in a close game in the playoffs? We don’t know yet. I didn’t like what they looked like in the final five minutes vs. Boston (Sunday) with everything on the line. I’d bet Trae would. He’s fearless and Collins is a weapon that people don’t talk enough about. The Knicks can’t rely on a rookie, Immanuel Quickley, to bail them out late.”
The fourth-seeded Knicks (41-31) have been doubted – and resilient — all season. So this is another case in point. But it should be noted in the last outing against the Hawks on April 22, with McMillan coaching, the Knicks were trailing the Hawks by eight points late in the third quarter. That’s when Young sprained his ankle after a collision with a Knicks center Norvel Pelle, who contested his floater.
The Knicks rallied to win in overtime with Young in the locker room. Young still finished with 20 points and 14 assists in his 30 minutes. The Hawks scored 39 points in the first quarter in that contest.
The Hawks were a different team under Lloyd Pierce, who coached against the Knicks in the first two contests.
“It’s a young and hungry group with a great coach,” a Western Conference scout said of Atlanta. “(McMillan) gets them to play hard and pay attention to detail. And they [have] shooters. Knicks are tough as nails, play hard and are always in games.”
If rebounding is tantamount, the Knicks have to contend with Atlanta’s Clint Capela, who has battled foot problems the last month but is a monster on the boards. Not having center Mitchell Robinson for this series could loom large. Capela put up a 25-and-22 game in the prior meeting. Nerlens Noel is a terrific shot-blocker, but he and backup center Taj Gibson lack bulk and size when going against big centers.
“Noel is going to have trouble with Capela if he’s healthy,” the NBA talent evaluator said. “Noel gets pushed around by bigger guys for rebounds. I’d worry about that.”
Another team executive thinks the Knicks will pull it out with the confidence of having beaten the Hawks all three times.
“I think playing the Hawks puts them in a position of a favorite because of the regular season but they should be careful,” the executive said. “The Hawks have a young dynamic team.”
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