The Charlotte Hornets entered February outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
They're wrapping up the month bearing down on first place in the Southeast Division.
Seeking five wins on a six-game trip for the first time in franchise history, the Hornets look to move percentage points ahead of Atlanta for second place by sending the Hawks to their worst five-game homestand in 14 years on Sunday.
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At 7-2 this month, Charlotte (30-27) is in the midst of the franchise's best February – in terms of winning percentage – to climb within 1 1/2 games of division-leading Miami. It has stepped up its play on defense, allowing an average of 98.3 points after yielding 106.3 in its final 10 games of January, and is no longer a pushover on the road.
The Hornets, who last won eight February games in 1996-97 when they finished the month 10-3, beat Indiana for the second time on their six-game trip with a 96-95 victory Friday. Kemba Walker scored nine of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and put Charlotte ahead on a layup with 2.4 seconds left.
“I just want to make plays,” said Walker, averaging an East-beat 24.1 points in February. “I love those kind of moments.”
The Hornets have won five of six on the road after opening the season 6-17 away from Charlotte. Their only loss on this trip came Wednesday against conference-best Cleveland.
Wins in Atlanta have been few and far between, however, as the Hornets are 2-15 there since 2007-08. The Hawks, though, are struggling to protect home court.
After opening its homestand with three straight losses, Atlanta (32-27) bounced back Friday with a 103-88 win over a Chicago team missing Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose.
''It hasn't gone the way we wanted,'' center Al Horford said. ''Being able to come out here tonight and get a win is big for us.''
Still, the Hawks' only two wins in their last seven games have come against the banged-up Bulls, and a loss Sunday would give them their first 1-4 homestand since January 2002.
Shaky 3-point shooting is one of the biggest reasons Atlanta is on pace for 44 wins after leading the East with 60 last season.
Second in the league in 3-point shooting at 38.0 percent in 2014-15, the Hawks hit just one of their first 18 attempts from beyond the arc Friday and finished 7 of 34. They're shooting 23.9 percent over their last three games with Kyle Korver going 3 of 14 and Kent Bazemore 1 of 15.
Leading scorer Paul Millsap is 5 of 19 from deep on the homestand, scoring 12 points or less three times.
Breaking out of the funk won't be easy against a Charlotte team that is limiting opponents to 30.0 percent from 3-point range and an average of 6.6 made 3s per game on its trip.
The Hornets have held the Hawks to 25.9 percent 3-point shooting in the last two meetings.
Walker had 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting in leading Charlotte to a 107-84 win over Atlanta on Jan. 13. The Hornets had lost the previous three meetings as Walker averaged 13.7 points and shot 36.1 percent.
Bazemore had nine points in the last meeting after combining for 39 in Atlanta's home-and-home sweep of Charlotte during the first week of the season. He's 7 of 14 from 3-point range in the season series, and the Hawks are 16-8 when he hits at least two.