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Basketball practice starts this week
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The high school basketball season is still weeks away, but teams across the area open practice this week. Many boys programs will be without key players until the conclusion of football season, but that doesn’t stop the anticipation for the coming season.

The Buford High girls are looking to repeat as the Class AA state champions, while the Gainesville High boys also return a solid nucleus of players, including 2009 Times Area Player of the Year Blake Sims, and will try to make a repeat trip to Macon for the Class AAA semifinals.

The high school football regular season is also rounding out with a flurry of important games this week, which will have an impact on subsequent playoff qualifying and seeding. The most critical game in the area is in Region 8-AA with Jefferson (8-0, 7-0) paying a visit to North Oconee (7-1, 6-1). With a win, the Dragons would face East Jackson (8-0, 7-0) in the regular season finale on Nov. 6 to see who earns the region title.

In Region 6-AA, Buford (7-1, 4-1) plays host to Westminster (6-2, 5-0) on Friday at Tom Riden Stadium. The Wolves need to win their final two regular season games, and get a loss from Lovett (7-1, 4-1) to earn the region title. In Region 8-A, Commerce (4-4, 3-1) can lock up the No. 2 seed to the playoffs with a win against Social Circle (4-4, 3-1) this week.

The Atlanta Hawks are out to prove that last year’s trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals wasn’t a fluke, when the team opens the 2009 season against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Both of the Hawks’ games during the opening week of the season are at home, including a matchup against the Washington Wizards on Friday.

Atlanta (47-35 last season) returns its leading scorer Joe Johnson (21.4 ppg., 5.8 assists) and leading rebounder Al Horford (9.3 per game) from the 2008-2009 season. The Hawks went out and traded for Golden State’s Jamal Crawford (19.7 ppg.) on June 25 in return for Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton.

The Hawks will also unveil Jeff Teague, the club’s first round draft choice in 2009 out of Wake Forest.

The Atlanta Falcons jump back into NFC South play with a visit to New Orleans next Monday. The Falcons (4-2) are off to a quick start this season, but still have a pair of divisional games against the Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one more left against the Carolina Panthers.

The Atlanta Thrashers have a three-day rest before a home game against the Washington Capitals on Thursday at Philips Arena, followed by a trip to face the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.

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