March 14, 2015

Though not in a position to celebrate moral victories, the Atlanta Hawks still had to be encouraged by how they began an important road trip.

The Hawks stand a better chance of being rewarded in Friday night's matchup with a Los Angeles Lakers team that may have Kobe Bryant among several notable absences.

After recording key wins over fellow Eastern Conference contenders Chicago and Charlotte to build momentum for a season-high five-game trek, Atlanta (33-28) nearly ended Golden State's 42-game regular-season home winning streak in Tuesday's 109-105 overtime loss.

Though the Warriors held out Stephen Curry with a sore ankle, the Hawks continued a strong defensive stretch by limiting the NBA's highest-scoring team to 39.8 percent shooting - the fourth time Golden State has finished below 40 percent this season. Atlanta trailed by only one when the Warriors' Draymond Green hit a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 40.2 seconds left in overtime.

The Hawks had held the Bulls and Hornets to a combined 34.9 percent and yielded a season low in points in Sunday's 87-76 win over Charlotte. They are allowing 97.6 points per game since Jan. 16 and lead the NBA in defensive rating during that span (96.2 points per 1000 possessions).

"I think there was a lot of, continues to be a lot of good positives on the defensive end of the court," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "They made a couple of tough shots, crazy shots, and offensively we didn't get quite enough to go down for us."

Los Angeles (12-50) is the NBA's worst shooting team at 41.6 percent but has been making progress, averaging 108.1 points and connecting on 38.2 percent of its 3-point tries in seven games since the All-Star break.

Jordan Clarkson is 20 of 47 from 3 while averaging 17.1 points over that stretch, but he may not play after exiting Wednesday's 117-107 loss at Denver with a strained left knee. Lou Williams, the team's third-leading scorer behind Bryant and Clarkson, will miss a second straight game with a strained left hamstring.

Bryant returned from a two-game absence to log 11 minutes in his final appearance in Denver. The retiring superstar, dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, said afterward he only played as a show of gratitude to the fans.

''It was important to get out there and play and show appreciation for all these years,'' he said. ''Had it not been the case, I wouldn't have played."

Bryant's injury has allowed the Lakers to accelerate D'Angelo Russell's development, and the rookie is indeed showing progress by averaging 26.8 points over his last four. After amassing a career-high 39 points to help end Los Angeles' eight-game skid with Tuesday's 107-101 win over Brooklyn, the No. 2 overall pick followed with 21 and six assists against the Nuggets.

"Everybody knows they've got to step up when guys go down," Russell said.

The Lakers haven't displayed improvement on the defensive end, though. They've allowed 116.4 points per game over their last eight, with opponents shooting 44.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Eight different Hawks hit 3-pointers in a 100-87 home win over the Lakers on Dec. 4.

Los Angeles had won eight straight at home in the series prior to the Hawks' 91-86 victory March 15, 2015. Atlanta hasn't won back-to-back road games over the Lakers since 2002.

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