February 07, 2015

The early-season patterns have been opposite for hopeful title contenders Atlanta and Memphis.

While the Hawks seemed to cement their spot toward the top of the Eastern Conference in the opening two weeks, the Grizzlies' struggles left questions about their status in the West.

The trends have reversed since, and the Grizzlies look to continue their climb on Friday night as the visiting Hawks hope to regain their footing.

Atlanta (10-7) won eight of 10 out of the gate while looking much like the team that finished with the best record in the East last season. The Hawks, though, have stumbled since with five losses in seven games, including a 99-95 defeat at Minnesota on Wednesday to start a three-game road trip.

Paul Millsap finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Timberwolves and Jeff Teague scored 22, but Atlanta dropped its fourth straight on the road.

''If a team can say they beat the No. 1 team in the East last year, it looks good on their resume, I guess,'' Millsap said. ''But that's the bed that we made, and you know we've got to accept that. Any time we come into somebody else's place or even at home, we've got to understand that the target's on our backs and we've got to match the other team's physicality and aggression.''

Injuries have impacted the Hawks with Kyle Korver slow to return from offseason ankle surgery and Teague missing three consecutive games this month with a sprained ankle.

Contributors Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha and Tiago Splitter have each missed a handful of games. Splitter will miss his third straight on Friday due to a hip injury, while Bazemore is questionable with a sore ankle.

This time last season was when the Hawks took off, winning 33 of 35 from Nov. 28-Jan. 31 after opening 7-6. The hot stretch closed with a franchise-record 19 straight victories.

''Well, we didn't start off the season great last year either,'' said Korver. ''I think everyone remembers it was after Thanksgiving we had a really good run.''

The clock starts now with the holiday in the rearview mirror. The Hawks close their trip at San Antonio on Saturday before opening a three-game homestand against Oklahoma City and Toronto next week - all three division leaders.

Atlanta has dropped three of four against Memphis, including the last two games at FedExForum.

The Grizzlies (9-7) averaged just 90.2 points while opening the season 3-6, but a rejuvenated offense has helped them win six of seven.

Memphis, which has won four straight at home, has scored more than 100 points five times during the spurt while averaging 103.9.

''In our case we knew it was us,'' point guard Mike Conley said. ''When we can recognize and be accountable for our mistakes it's easier to fix than to start to think that all the teams are better than us.''

Conley finished with 19 points and five assists during a 102-93 win at Houston on Wednesday while Jeff Green had 20 and Courtney Lee scored 10 of his 17 in the fourth quarter.

After averaging 12.5 points on 34.7-percent shooting through Memphis' first 10 games, Conley has averaged 20.7 while making 54.9 percent of his shots in the last six.

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