After getting by a fellow Eastern Conference powerhouse, the short-handed Atlanta Hawks took a step back against one of the league’s worst teams.
Another loss seems unlikely Monday night as they figure to be close to full strength against the visiting Sacramento Kings, losers of 12 straight in the series.
The East-leading Hawks (49-13) extended their winning streak to six with a 106-97 victory over Cleveland on Friday, but they were held to their third-fewest points this season the following night in a 92-84 defeat at Philadelphia. Atlanta was without starters Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll due to rest, leaving coach Mike Budenholzer without a combined 41.1 points per game.
"A lot of our guys have to learn and grow," said Budenholzer, whose team is still seeking its first 50-win season since 2009-10. "It wasn’t our best night, but sometimes you learn from those as much as your good nights."
Al Horford finished with 12 points on 6 of 16 from the floor as the Hawks were limited to 39.0 percent shooting. Atlanta was also outrebounded 55-42, including 17-5 on the offensive glass.
"I couldn’t get a basket. A lot of our guys had good looks as well. It just happens," said Horford, who missed all six of his shots after halftime to go scoreless in the second half for the second time this season. "It’s learning. Bench guys have to play. Playing time is important. You obviously want to win every game, but we’ll regroup and get ready for Monday."
Atlanta has to be feeling good about its chances of bouncing back against Sacramento. The Hawks have averaged 112.1 points during their 12-game run in the series, and they’ve taken seven in a row from the Kings at home by an average margin of 13.6.
Horford is averaging 23.8 points on 59.8 percent shooting in his last five in the series, and his lifetime average of 18.7 versus Sacramento is his highest against any team. Korver has also torched the Kings with 17.4 points per game on 63.0 percent shooting – including 20 of 29 from 3-point range – in his last five.
Atlanta has won 36 of its last 40 when Korver, averaging 12.4 points, scores at least nine.
The Kings (21-40) opened a season-high eight-game trek with last Tuesday’s 124-86 rout against NBA-worst New York, but they’ve gone on to lose their next three while allowing an average of 115.0 points. Sacramento, which led by as many as 16 against Miami on Saturday, was limited to 35 points after halftime in a 114-109 overtime defeat.
"I think it was a good game for us," said coach George Karl, who dropped to 3-6 since replacing Tyrone Corbin over the All-Star break. "We’ll learn some things for it. I’ll learn some things from it."
DeMarcus Cousins had 27 points and 17 rebounds after putting up 29 and 12 the night before against Orlando. Rudy Gay has also played well with a combined 66 points on 28-of-50 shooting in the last two games.
The Kings have dropped 18 of their last 21 on the road for the NBA’s second-worst record since Nov. 26. The Hawks own the NBA’s second-best home record at 29-4, including an 11-1 mark against the West.