As Paul Millsap has recaptured his All-Star form, the Atlanta Hawks have gotten healthier while making a complete turnaround following a nightmare stretch.
Now Millsap and the Hawks will try to continue their playoff push in a potentially difficult matchup should Anthony Davis return for the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.
Since losing 14 of 15 while many key players missed time due to injury, the Hawks (31-35) have bounced back to win a season-high five straight with their roster as close to full strength as possible over the past two weeks.
Millsap, who recently missed five games because of a knee contusion, posted his first career triple-double Tuesday with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a 118-113 overtime win over Toronto.
The veteran forward has scored 22.2 per game and hit 8 of 19 from 3-point range during the win streak. He’s averaged 23.7 points and 10.0 boards while shooting 55.6 percent over three straight double-doubles against New Orleans (27-40) dating to his time with Utah.
Although the month-long tailspin threatened their bid to make the playoffs, the Hawks now seem back on track and have a four-game lead over surging New York for the Eastern Conference’s final spot.
"We’re not going to make any excuses," Millsap said. "We’ve just got to push forward and try to win some games."
As solid as Millsap has been, Davis has been better and he’s expected to return after sitting out Wednesday’s game against Toronto with an upper respiratory infection. Davis is enjoying the best stretch of his two NBA seasons with 32.3 points and 14.3 rebounds per game over his last six, most recently posting career highs of 40 points and 21 boards in Sunday’s win over Boston.
Without Davis on Wednesday, New Orleans was outrebounded 48-34 and failed to hold a 14-point lead in a 107-100 home loss to the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors.
"Obviously, with a guy that can rebound like Anthony, it’s hard to make up for that," rookie center Jeff Withey said.
Davis led the Pelicans with 27 points and 10 rebounds in a 105-100 home win over Atlanta on Feb. 5 during the Hawks’ extended slump. Millsap had 26 points and 10 boards while Jeff Teague handed out 13 assists – his most in 2014 – but scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
Teague, who sat out one game during the 1-14 stretch because of an ankle sprain, matched his career high with 34 points Tuesday as the Hawks overcame an early 13-point deficit. The point guard has averaged 25.0 points and made 8 of 13 from beyond the arc in his last five home games.
While Atlanta has won each of its last three home games by five points, the Pelicans are coming off a 3-3 homestand and looking to avoid their 10th loss in 12 road games.
Tyreke Evans has played well since recently moving into New Orleans’ lineup, averaging 23.1 points in seven starts this month.
While the Pelicans have shot just 24.6 percent from beyond the arc over their last four games, the Hawks have limited opponents to 29.0 percent in their last four.
New Orleans has won five of the past seven meetings.