Hawks-Raptors Preview

The Atlanta Hawks continue to be one of the most inconsistent

teams in the NBA, but surprisingly, have found success on the road

early in the season.

The Hawks look to improve their Eastern Conference-leading road

record Sunday when they travel to take on the Toronto Raptors.

Atlanta (10-7) opened the season 6-0, but then lost seven of

nine. The Hawks, though, have a chance to win three straight after

defeating New York 99-90 on Saturday and improve to 7-2 on the

road, a drastic improvement from their 19-22 mark last season.

Coach Larry Drew knows that his team is going to experience both

highs and lows, but wants his players to give it their all when

they step on the court.

“It’s called corrective criticism. I’m going to challenge our

team every single game we play,” Drew said. “We’re going to have

some nights when we can’t put it in the ocean, can’t make a shot.

(But) there should never be an excuse why we can’t come out every

single night and play with a high level of energy.”

Joe Johnson, who signed a six-year, $119 million deal to stay

with the Hawks during the offseason, is averaging 17.1 points – his

lowest total since joining the team in 2005-06 – and has been

limited to 12.7 over his previous seven games.

Johnson was held to seven points against New York, but could be

in line for a bounce-back game against the Raptors, against whom he

has scored 23.0 per game while with Atlanta.

Al Horford, who had 17 points and nine rebounds versus the

Knicks, has picked up some of the scoring slack during Johnson’s

recent funk. He is averaging a career-high 16.4 points and will try

for his third straight double-double against Toronto.

Unlike the Hawks, whose 48.5 percent shooting on the road is

fourth in the league, the Raptors (6-10) have fared much better at

home, where they have won three straight.

Toronto had its season-long four-game winning streak snapped

with a 110-101 loss in Boston on Friday night as Andrea Bargnani,

who is averaging a team-best 21.2 points, matched a season low with

11.

Peja Stojakovic, playing in his second game with the team since

he was acquired via trade Nov. 20, went 3 for 4 from three-point

range en route to 13 points off the bench.

“I just play simple basketball, pass, shoot, cut to the basket,

and (at times) we were successful,” said Stojakovic, who has

recorded 19.8 points while connecting on 18 of 34 from long

distance (52.9 percent) in his last four games versus Atlanta.

The three-time All-Star could be in line for more playing time

after Reggie Evans, who is among the league leaders in rebounds

with 12.1 per game, left in the third quarter of Friday night’s

loss with a broken right foot.

“I feel bad for Reggie cause he’s been playing very well, but as

a team we’ve got guys that are ready and able to fill in for him,”

Raptors coach Jay Triano said. “That’s the one positive that we’ve

talked about all year is our depth, and we got to have those guys

step up and play now.”

Jose Calderon distributed a season-high 15 assists against the

Celtics, and has at least 10 in six of his previous 12 games versus

Atlanta.