The Atlanta Hawks (20-18) and New Jersey Nets (15-22) will jump overseas to give fans in London a taste of NBA action on Thursday, Jan. 16 in the O2 Arena.
The Hawks continue to prepare at the O2 Arena in London this morning for Thursday's contest against the Nets: pic.twitter.com/UMXEeztCXZ— Andre Aldridge (@AndreHoops) January 15, 2014
The Nets have spent the majority of this season playing basketball that may not have been worthy of being called NBA basketball, but the underachieving team has made recent strides.
Their last time on the court, the Nets fell 96-80 to the Toronto Raptors, but that came after they beat the Miami Heat 104-95 in overtime the night before. The win over the Heat was the Nets' fifth-straight win.
Meanwhile, the Hawks have been overachieving and sit in fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Not that it's all good news for the Hawks, though. They have been scuffling since losing Al Horford for the season with a torn pectoral muscle on December 27. They've gone just 4-5 in that span, and the offense is not nearly as potent without the multi-talented center.
Now, they must try to re-establish themselves as an Eastern Conference factor by taking on the suddenly surging Nets, and do so on a very unique road trip.
This game is the latest effort in the NBA to expand their global market.
There were nine exhibition games in other countries this preseason, but this is the first game in this regular season to be played outside of the U.S. or Canada, but that is only because a Dec. 4 contest in Mexico City between the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves was cancelled due to safety concerns.
Where: O2 Arena, London, England
When: Thursday, Jan. 16 at 3 p.m. ET/8 p.m. GM
Betting Line: Nets -1.5 (according to Bovada)
Key Storyline: Can the Hawks survive without Horford?
First-year coach Mike Budenholzer has done a wonderful job with the Hawks. Expectations were fairly low for the team this year after an offseason of change saw Josh Smith leave.
Budenholzer is going to have to work even more magic to keep this team over .500 as the season rolls on. The problem is that the Hawks have an inconsistent and vulnerable defense, and Horford was a key piece to Atlanta's offense.
Horford averaged 18.6 points per game this season. That had him as the Hawks' leading scorer and just one of four Hawks to average over double digits.
With Horford's range and efficient play, the Hawks had the NBA's 10th-most efficient offense at the time of his injury with 104.7 points per 100 possessions. Since his injury, the Hawks have been scoring just 98.9 points per 100 possessions. That would rank the Hawks 23rd in the league if it were for the season.
Peachtree Hoops sums up the difficulty the Hawks have replacing Horford:
In layman's terms there is no replacing Al Horford for the Hawks but they will attempt to apply the best band aid available. Expect to see Coach Budenholzer experiment and tinker with his lineups and rotations over the next few games to see where the pieces fit.
The Hawks will have to find a new identity on offense to cope with Horford's absence.
Prediction: Nets 109, Hawks 99
The Nets have spent much of the season being the punchline of the NBA. They are finally starting to show the kind of form it will take to make the postseason. To make the postseason, they have to beat vulnerable opponents, and the Hawks are vulnerable without Horford.
The Nets will do just that by authoring a fairly comfortable win.