April 15, 2014

Finally, the Atlanta Hawks are resembling the team that produced the Eastern Conference's best record last season.

Back atop the Southeast Division, they'll look to continue their late-season surge in Friday night's home game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

After hovering around .500 through the season's first four months, the Hawks are playing their best basketball as they near the stretch run. They've won 11 of 14 since Feb. 26 to move a half-game ahead of Miami and Charlotte in a tight Southeast race and pull even with Boston for third in the East.

Atlanta (42-30) regained the division lead with Wednesday's 122-101 bounce-back victory at Washington, avenging Monday's 117-102 home loss to the Wizards that halted a five-game winning streak. It did so by hitting a season-high 17 3-pointers and re-establishing the defensive presence that's sparked its recent turnaround.

The Hawks held Washington to 42.4 percent shooting and scored 25 points off 18 turnovers in the rematch. The Wizards finished 50.5 percent from the field and 13 of 25 from 3-point range while having only nine giveaways in Monday's meeting.

"We just got more aggressive," center Al Horford said. "We changed our strategy a little bit. That was the biggest difference."

Atlanta has limited opponents to 40.3 percent overall and 29.8 percent from 3 - both league bests - during its 14-game run.

The Hawks also have rediscovered their touch from the perimeter, having averaged 13.4 3-pointers over their last seven. Atlanta ranked second in the NBA in 3-point percentage and fifth in makes en route to a franchise-record 60 wins in 2014-15.

Kyle Korver is 20 of 38 over that stretch and went 5 of 10 in Wednesday's 15-point effort. Tim Hardaway Jr., buried on the bench for much of the season, is 13 of 24 while averaging 17.8 points over his last four.

The Hawks, however, haven't shot well from outside in two prior matchups with Milwaukee this season, both overtime losses. They ended 9 of 41 from beyond the arc in a 117-109 double-overtime defeat at home on Feb. 20 and were 9 of 30 in a 108-101 road loss on Jan. 15.

Milwaukee (30-42) also dominated the glass in those games, outrebounding Atlanta by a combined plus-33 margin. The Bucks, though, haven't been nearly as proficient in that department during a three-game skid they'll take into Philips Arena.

Cleveland recorded 20 second-chance points and 17 offensive rebounds to hand the Bucks a 113-104 defeat on Wednesday, two days after Milwaukee opened a three-game trip with a 92-91 loss to Detroit in which the deciding points came on Andre Drummond's putback in the final seconds.

"Offensive rebounds, that's something that has been a problem for us all year," coach Jason Kidd said following Wednesday's game.

Milwaukee did receive 24 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo in another strong performance for the 21-year-old. He's averaging 20.6 points, 8.1 assists and 7.8 rebounds in 12 games this month.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 21.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in his last four matchups with Atlanta and had 28 and 16 in last month's victory.

Atlanta's Paul Millsap is averaging 22.0 points and 11.5 rebounds over the series' past four games, but Jeff Teague has struggled in recent meetings. The point guard has shot 27.6 percent while failing to score in double figures in three straight against Milwaukee.

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