Hawks-Trail Blazers Preview

The Atlanta Hawks can create some breathing room atop the Southeast Division with their closest pursuer banged-up and trudging through an exhausting stretch.

The Hawks, however, need to carry the balance they've shown in their last few home games out on the road beginning with Wednesday night's opener of a four-game trip against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Atlanta (25-17) has been jockeying with Miami for the division lead and carries a slim advantage into this matchup with Portland (19-25). The Heat, already saddled with key injuries, are amid a vicious slate in which only two of 16 games come at home.

One of those contests is Jan. 31 against the Hawks, who don't have it much easier until then with five of their next six away from home.

They've lost four of six outside Atlanta to fall to 10-10 on the road, but a pair of home victories this week showed signs of them regaining the balance they used during last season's 60-win campaign.

After shooting a combined 40.3 percent, including 16 of 55 from 3-point range, in road losses to Charlotte and Milwaukee last week, Atlanta shot the ball well and used its deep rotation in home wins over Brooklyn and Orlando.

The Hawks hit 55.7 percent despite missing 21 of 29 from long range in a 114-86 rout of the Nets on Saturday before having one of their most effective nights from deep with a 9-for-19 effort in Monday's 98-81 victory over the Magic.

The reserves were key in both wins, providing 53 points, 24 rebounds and 18 assists against Brooklyn, and 47 points, 17 rebounds and 19 assists versus Orlando.

“Our bench has been doing great,” starting forward Paul Millsap said. “When they get in the game, they push the tempo, they get after it on defense, and when you have the whole team contributing, the whole team out there fighting hard, it makes us a tough team.”

The constant stream of fresh legs wreaked havoc on the perimeter, forcing the Nets and Magic to miss 30 of 42 long-range attempts – a welcome sight for a Hawks team that ranked seventh in the NBA last season with a 34.1 defensive 3-point percentage.

“Their defensive energy is fueling everything else, so hopefully we can continue to get the starters to feed off that, too,” coach Mike Budenholzer said of his reserves. “It's been good to see that for a few games in a row.”

The perimeter focus needs to remain against the Trail Blazers, who rank third in the league with an average of 10.3 3-pointers and fifth with 28.4 attempts per game. The outside defense was clicking in the first meeting against Portland, which missed 19 of 24 from beyond the arc in a 106-97 loss at Atlanta on Dec. 21.

It certainly didn't help that leading scorers Damian Lillard (24.4) and C.J. McCollum (20.5) sat out with injuries. The starting backcourt helped the Blazers roar back from an embarrassing 25-point loss to Philadelphia for a 108-98 win at Washington on Monday in which they shot a season-best 54.8 percent from long range.

Lillard and McCollum combined for 41 points and went 8 of 16 on 3s as the Blazers won for the fourth time in five games.

“Winning three (in a row) and then getting beat by a (76ers) team that only had four wins – the ability to come back and lock in and not dwell on what had happened is big for us,” said Meyers Leonard, who scored 18 points.