Without looking, who’s got the better NBA record so far: the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls? Wrong - it’s the Hawks, with one extra win and one less defeat. Which is why it figures to be an intriguing clash tonight when they go head to head at the Phillips Arena.
Atlanta were one of my pre-season tips to surprise and they’ve lived up to that minor billing.
Fresh from a stretch of nine consecutive victories that came to an end in Orlando on Saturday, Mike Budenholzer’s men have emerged as one of the pack of contenders that can challenge for homecourt in the East in the playoffs. They’re also good value still at 3.50 in the Southeast Division where they trail Washington (1.65) by a single game.
Good coaching has been a new stamp in The ATL. Budenholzer, who divided his playing career between Scotland and Denmark, has been the shrewd hire many expected when he was prised away from the Spurs 18 months ago.
But the Hawks have also become much more effective offensively than anticipated. During an eight-game period up to their win in Indiana on December 8 they were averaging 108 points per game. And while that has dipped in their subsequent three outings, they are still notching 105.5 per 100 possessions, good enough for 11th in the league.
One place above, surprisingly, lie Chicago who still only have the ninth-best defence in the NBA (the Hawks are eighth). Yet the Bulls have won three straight with Joakim Noah out of the line-up with the victories coming by an average margin of 18.
It’s hard to see that scale of win here, especially with Chicago - who are 1.98 to come out on top - only 4-5 on the road.
And with the hosts rolling, there’s solid value on a handicap of -4.5 at 2.43 for the Hawks to fly.
Best bet: Go under 193.5 total points in Atlanta-Chicago at 2.48