January 10, 2015

A month ago, the Atlanta Hawks appeared to be riding out a terribly disappointing season. Now they're playing a lot like the team that won 60 games last season.

The Washington Wizards were plummeting from the playoff race only a week ago before resuscitating their chances with a season high-tying winning streak.

In a matchup between two of the Eastern Conference's hottest teams, the Hawks will go after their ninth victory in 10 games by continuing their home dominance of the Wizards on Monday night in the opener of this home-and-home set.

Atlanta fell to sixth in the East and two games behind Miami in the Southeast Division on Feb. 22 after a 5-10 stretch. The Hawks, however, have turned things around by winning 10 of 12 to take over the division lead and No. 3 spot in the conference.

They're leading a tight four-team race for that seed, which would help them avoid a potential meeting with East-best Cleveland until the conference finals.

On Saturday, Al Horford led the way with 22 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 20 points with five 3-pointers in a 109-97 home win over Houston. Horford has averaged 18.5 points while hitting 10 of 21 from 3-point range in his last six games.

Hardaway has chipped in with 41 points in the past two games for the Hawks, who have averaged 114.3 in the last three of a five-game winning streak. They've also limited opponents to 91.8 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting over their last 12.

''I think we're just peaking at the right time as a team,'' Horford said. ''It feels very different. I feel like we're a much better team. We're much more focused.''

Atlanta (41-29) has averaged 113 points while limiting Washington to 94.7 over a three-game home winning streak in this series. Kent Bazemore, who returned from a one-game absence due to a bruised knee on Saturday, finished with 25 points and Paul Millsap added 21 with seven assists and six rebounds in a 114-99 victory Nov. 7.

The Hawks have won 14 of the past 15 home meetings since the 2008-09 season.

Washington looked like an easy win on the schedule a week ago after a season-high five-game losing streak left it two spots and 3 1/2 games back of a playoff position. The Wizards have since won four in a row to move 1 1/2 games behind the eighth seed.

Washington has tightened things up defensively, allowing an average of 90 points during the streak after it had surrendered 110.8 over its previous five defeats. Markieff Morris, acquired from Phoenix on Feb. 18, has led that effort.

"It's going to be a great matchup with him going up against Millsap," point guard John Wall said. "We've got someone who can guard (guys like him) one-on-one."

Wall recorded his fifth consecutive double-double with 24 points and 10 assists Saturday when the Wizards (34-35) rallied from an 18-point deficit for a 99-89 home victory over New York. The All-Star has hit 15 of 31 from 3-point range in his last seven games against Atlanta, though he's also committed 34 turnovers in the past five.

Bradley Beal returned Saturday after missing four of the previous six games with a pelvic sprain and said it was "probably the best I've felt since coming back."

Washington will host Atlanta on Wednesday.

You May Like