Bobcats-Hawks Preview

Over the last few weeks, Atlanta’s offense has made huge strides

under first-year coach Mike Budenholzer.

The offense will face tremendous adversity over the next few

weeks as it begins to adjust to life without leading scorer Al

Horford.

The Hawks play their first game since learning Horford tore his

right pectoral muscle Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats

– a team they’ve defeated nine times in a row.

Horford left in the first overtime of Thursday’s 127-125

double-overtime win at Cleveland. Atlanta (16-13) said an MRI and

examination on Friday revealed the complete tear of the muscle,

leaving his status for the remainder of the season in question.

”We will work with Al and complete our due diligence to

determine the next best steps for him,” Hawks general manager

Danny Ferry said in a statement. ”Injuries are part of the

challenge of an NBA season.”

Horford emerged as a good fit in Budenholzer’s offense,

averaging team highs of 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. The Hawks are

11-3 when he scores at least 19, but 5-10 when he scores 18 or

less.

Pero Antic, who averages 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.5

minutes, may take Horford’s spot in the starting lineup, while

Gustavo Ayon and Elton Brand are expected to see increased

minutes.

If there is any good news for Hawks fans, Horford tore his left

pectoral muscle 11 games into the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season

and missed the rest of the regular season but was able to return

for the playoffs.

Currently third in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta, even with

Horford sidelined indefinitely, still has a good shot of making the

playoffs in a down East.

Horford had played a big part in Atlanta’s offensive eruption,

averaging 22.6 points on 63.0 percent shooting in the last five

games. The Hawks are averaging 120.4 points on 51.2 percent

shooting in that span, losing only at Miami in overtime on

Monday.

Jeff Teague sent Atlanta to double-overtime with a game-tying

3-pointer with five seconds left in the first extra period, and hit

the winner at the buzzer of the next session. He finished with a

career-high 34 points on 14-of-24 shooting and added 14

assists.

Horford was instrumental in a 103-94 win at Charlotte on Nov.

11, the season’s lone meeting. He scored 13 of his 24 points in the

third quarter while the Hawks outscored the Bobcats 34-16, turning

an eight-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead.

The Hawks have won nine straight in the series, and their last

four home victories have come by an average of 20.7 points.

The Bobcats (14-16) are opening a five-game road trip after

suffering an 89-85 loss Friday to an Oklahoma City team playing

without Russell Westbrook. Charlotte had a chance for the win but

Josh McRoberts missed an open 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left.

The close loss against one of the league’s best teams did little

to encourage Bobcats coach Steve Clifford.

”This may surprise you, but I didn’t like at all the way we

played,” he said. ”I didn’t like our defense. Our attention to

detail was not good at all. The things we talked about this morning

that we had to do, we did a poor job with. We gave them baskets.

Our effort on the glass was not anywhere it needs to be.”

Charlotte is 6-5 since Dec. 6, averaging 107.7 points in the

wins but just 86.4 points in the defeats.

Al Jefferson, who was working his way back into playing shape in

the first meeting with Atlanta, is averaging 21.8 points and 11.2

rebounds in the last five games.