October 30—Washington Wizards
The second game of the season shouldn't be that important, but this game is big for the Hawks. Washington is going to be the most improved team in the East in 2010. The Wizards brought in Flip Saunders as head coach. He has had more NBA success than Hawks coach Mike Woodson. Of course, Saunders did have Kevin Garnett in Minnesota.
The additions of Mike Miller and Randy Foye coupled with Gilbert Arenas’ return from injury make the Wizards very dangerous for the Hawks. The Wizards should make the playoffs this year.
November 7—Denver Nuggets
With their playoff performance and Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets have become one of the elite teams in the NBA. They are in a small group of teams with NBA championship aspirations. Hawks fans should be wondering who is going to guard Carmelo Anthony?
This early-season match-up is the Hawks only home game amidst a 6 game road trip that includes a tough West Coast swing. The Hawks will need a big win in Philips Arena.
November 16—Portland Trailblazers
Brandon Roy is worth the price of admission (Hawks need to look at his extension in current talks with Joe Johnson), but the big question for Portland is whether or not Greg Oden is going to be able to start and give them quality minutes this season without getting injured.
With the lack of big men in the Hawks front line, the home fans will be impressed with Portland’s big men. I would take Przbilla right now and start him beside Al Horford.
November 18—Miami Heat
This Southeast Division home rematch from the 2009 Playoffs will be a huge game Atlanta. The Hawks and Heat likely will be competing all season for playoff seeding and the home court advantage was the difference in the playoffs this year. The Hawks won Game 7 because the game was played in Philips Arena.
The Heat should be better with improved play from Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley, but if they are relying on Jermaine O’Neal again in the post, the Hawks should have the advantage.
D-Wade is worth the price of admission himself and Hawks analysts will be watching to see if Mike Woodson double teams him if the game is close in the fourth quarter. Man, I hope so.
November 26—Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard returns to his hometown as a superstar. In about a year’s time, Howard has gone from being an All-Star to a global superstar almost as big as LeBron and Kobe. He earned NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season and led his team to the NBA Finals. However, his Q-rating has soared with a ton of commercials to his road trip around the U.S. this summer. All the stars in Atlanta should be at this game.
The Hawks will have four off days to prepare for this game, so they should be ready. Vince Carter killed Atlanta in two early season games last year, but he isn't the screen and roll player that Hedo Turkoglu was for the Magic.
The key match up will be Jamal Crawford playing big minutes off the bench versus the smaller, quicker Magic point guard Jameer Nelson.
December 2—Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are another team that is looking to make a move in the Eastern Conference. I like the additions of Hedo Turkoglu and Jarrett Jack as the back up point guard. The Raptors also signed Rasha Nesterovic who gave the Hawks trouble early in the season last year.
If Atlanta isn't able to extend Joe Johnson’s contract, they might be in a position to make a run at Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Bosh should benefit greatly from having more playmakers in the lineup. The Raptor’s Jose Calderon is one of the most underrated point guards in the Association.
December 29—Cleveland Cavaliers
King James is coming, King James is coming! LeBron put on one of the most dominating individual playoff performances this year when the Cavs swept the Hawks. He did anything that he wanted on the court offensively. A banged-up Hawks roster had no answers.
A healthy Marvin Williams would have helped, but he was out of action.
Hopefully, Shaq stays healthy and he plays in this game. This game is the kind of game that makes Atlanta's season ticket holders schedule their Christmas vacation trips around seeing LeBron and Shaq.
January 22—Charlotte Bobcats
In the past year, Coach Larry Brown has totally overhauled the Bobcats roster. Very few players have survived with Emeka Okafor being the latest player shipped out to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler.
Historically, teams under Brown improve a bunch in his second year. The Bobcats will be a tough opponent for the Hawks, and will battle for a playoff spot. Plus, Hawks fans have another great chance to boo former Hawk Boris Diaw.
February 3—LA Clippers
The Clippers...what? Yes, the Clippers are going to be an exciting NBA team this year if Baron Davis is healthy and wants to play. Rookie Blake Griffin should make an immediate impact. He would start if he were in Atlanta. Combine Griffin and Davis with young, athletic slashers like Eric Gordon and Al Thornton and the Clippers have the ingredients for a fun year in 2010.
February 5—Chicago Bulls
The Bulls' playoff run this year mirrored the Hawks run against Boston in 2008. Everyone is on the Bulls’ bandwagon for 2010. NBA analysts are predicting a big year, but I think the Bulls will still be fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Hawks fans can't miss this big home game, because the Hawks will be right there with the Bulls fighting for a playoff spot.
Making the playoffs in the East in 2010 is going to be a battle of about six teams for four spots. That should make for some great games at the Highlight Factory a.k.a. Philips Arena this year.