The red-hot Atlanta Hawks concluded 2014 as one of the NBA’s most surprising teams. Now they’ll have to keep playing well on the road to carry that success over into the new year.
With Al Horford expected back, Paul Millsap looks to continue his strong play against his former team as Atlanta begins a stretch with eight of 10 away from home Friday night versus the Utah Jazz.
After barely making the playoffs with a below .500 record without Horford in 2013-14, the Hawks have played very much like Eastern Conference contenders throughout the 2014 portion of the schedule.
They’ve won 16 of 18 en route to the East’s second-best record following Tuesday’s 109-101 home victory over Cleveland. Atlanta (23-8) is also off to its best 31-game mark since Dominique Wilkins led the club to 24-7 in 1993-94.
"This team is dedicated to winning games," Millsap said after scoring 26 against the Cavaliers. "We’re dedicated to each other and dedicated to our coaches. That’s our attitude and we want to keep that attitude."
Millsap has totaled 53 points and 25 rebounds in his last two meetings with Utah (11-21). The power forward, who spent his first seven seasons with the Jazz, had season highs with 30 points and 17 rebounds in a 100-97 home win Nov. 12.
Now Atlanta hopes to have Horford back as it goes after an eighth straight victory and 11th in 12 matchups with Utah. The two-time All-Star center averaged 17.8 points over an 11-game span before sitting Tuesday because of an illness.
The Hawks, who have only two home games until Jan. 19, also seek their ninth win in 10 road games and first five-game winning streak away from home since February 2013.
They’re playing well on both ends, averaging 105.4 points while giving up 94.8 in their last nine away from home.
Jeff Teague has led the way with 23.2 points and 2.7 steals per game in his past six road games. He had 20 points and eight assists in the first meeting with Utah and has totaled 48 and 18 in his last two overall.
The Jazz, however, appear to be a much different team than the one that lost 19 of their first 25. They’ve won five of seven following Tuesday’s 100-94 victory over visiting Minnesota.
”It was really just defense,” coach Quin Snyder said. ”It seems everybody made a play on the defensive end whether they were the actual player that deflected the ball and stole it, someone who pressured the pass or someone who denied the pass.”
The Jazz have allowed an average of 91.7 points with a plus-7.3 rebounding margin over their last seven games, though they were outrebounded by the Hawks 46-30 in November. They’ll have to watch former Utah guard Kyle Korver, who has totaled 43 points while hitting 8 of 11 from behind the arc in the past two meetings.
Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke finished with 26 points apiece Tuesday. Hayward, the team’s leading scorer, has scored 21.0 per game while hitting 18 of 30 from 3-point range over his past five.
With former Jazz forward DeMarre Carroll questionable after missing practice due to dehydration, the Hawks may have to use the platoon of players that helped hold Hayward to 11 points with Carroll sidelined in Atlanta.
Hayward has struggled against the Hawks, scoring 11.6 per game on 35.1 percent shooting in seven career games.