Hornets-Hawks Preview

The frontline duo of Josh Smith and Al Horford continues to be

one of the biggest reasons for the Atlanta Hawks’ success – or at

times, lack thereof – especially of late.

Both players will look to take advantage of an opponent that has

struggled with interior defense recently Friday night against the

visiting New Orleans Hornets.

New Orleans will try to end a four-game road losing streak and

avenge its 95-86 home loss to Atlanta on New Year’s Day. Smith and

Horford combined to score 43 points on 21-of-37 shooting in that

game as the Hornets allowed 50 points in the paint.

The Hawks (27-21) have split their last 10 games, but they got

22 points and a season-high 13 assists from Jeff Teague in a 103-92

home win against Memphis on Wednesday.

Smith and Horford combined for 36 points and each posted 11

rebounds.

“We were clicking on all cylinders,” Teague said. “Al was

getting out and running, getting rebounds. Josh was getting out and

leading the breaks, and guys were making shots.”

Horford is averaging 22.8 points and shooting 58.7 percent over

the last four Hawks victories he’s played in, while Smith is

putting up 21.5 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in Atlanta’s last

four wins.

Overall in Atlanta victories this season, the duo is shooting

52.3 percent, compared to a 44.6 percent mark in losses.

The Hornets (16-33) had lost six of seven while allowing an

average of 50.0 points in the paint before a 93-84 home victory

against Phoenix on Wednesday.

New Orleans, which ranks in the league’s bottom third in

allowing opponents to average 43.5 points in the paint, still gave

up 42 to the Suns. But it was a sharp contrast from the 62 and 58

yielded to Denver and Minnesota in the previous two games.

The effort snapped a four-game slide after coach Monty Williams

ran the team through what he dubbed “training-camp style” practices

on Monday and Tuesday.

“One of the primary focuses of the two practices on Monday and

Tuesday was just our aggressiveness,” said Robin Lopez, who has

shot 70 percent or better in four of his last five games. “We want

to make sure we went out there and beat up on each other, and it

was nice to see some carry-over.”

Greivis Vasquez had 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting while adding 12

assists with no turnovers Wednesday. He trails only injured point

guards Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul with 9.4 assists per game.

He’s also averaging 15.4 points during the Hornets’ improved

11-11 stretch since Christmas.

New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson scored 23 points in the first meeting

with Atlanta, but the Hawks shot 49.4 percent from the field. Eric

Gordon struggled in his second game back from injury, hitting 5 of

17 shots and committing four turnovers.

Gordon, averaging 16.4 points and helping the Hornets go 9-7

when he’s active, was 3 of 14 from the field Wednesday after

missing two of the previous three games with lingering knee

problems.

“I am still not 100 percent,” Gordon said. “I am battling

through it.”

Atlanta’s Kyle Korver tied Mookie Blaylock’s franchise record

for consecutive games with a 3-pointer at 42 on Wednesday and can

surpass the mark Friday.