The Atlanta Hawks regular season begins Thursday at Philips Arena against the Washington Wizards. The Hawks finished 48-34 last season, and they made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and lost to the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The Hawks were 5-2 in the preseason (which means nothing). This season, the Hawks will try to make the playoffs for the tenth consecutive season, the second-longest active postseason streak in the NBA.
Here are four things to know about Thursday's game:
1. Dwight's Debut
Thursday will be newcomer Dwight Howard's first regular season game in a Hawks uniform. The Hawks signed Howard, 30, during free agency to a 3-year, $70.5 million deal. Howard, an eight-time All-Star, is entering his thirteenth year in the league. He was drafted out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy in 2008 by the Orlando Magic. After winning three NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards with the Magic, Howard played at Los Angeles and Houston. However, many considered him to be a selfish player and distraction in the locker room.
Now, Howard returns home. In the preseason, Howard led the team with 14.6 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. He is the active NBA leader in career double-doubles with 613. Howard fills a void left by Al Horford, who left for Boston during free agency. Fans are interested to see if Howard gels with this team known to play selfless, team basketball.
2. Slow starts for Hawks historically have little effect
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer is 0-3 in season openers since joining the team in 2013. The Hawks have not won a season opener since 2011. However, starting 0-1 the past four years has had little effect on the rest of the Hawks' seasons. In 2014-15, the Hawks had a franchise-record 60 wins.
The Hawks have struggled in season openers since the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1968. The Hawks are 20-28 in the first game of the regular season. However, in home openers the Hawks are 27-21.
3. What happened during the off season
We've already mentioned Howard, who will be one of the new faces gracing the hardwood at Philips on Thursday. Some other new faces who will come off the bench include rookies Taurean Prince, who the Utah Jazz drafted in the first round on behalf of the Hawks in a trade involving Jeff Teague, and DeAndre Bembry, drafted No. 21 overall out of St. Joseph's.
Teague, the team's former point guard, was sent out west, so Dennis Schroder will be the regular starter at the 1 position. Schroder regularly came in for Teague to help the offense get on track, especially in the postseason. The Hawks extended Schroder's contract on Thursday. He and Malcolm Delaney, who the Hawks picked up during free agency, are the only point guards on the team.
The Hawks also extended Kent Bazemore and Kris Humphries' contract during the off season.
4. How to watch or listen
The Hawks' season opener will be on Fox Sports Southeast and NBA League Pass at 7:30 p.m. The game can be heard on 92.9 FM The Game.