After alternating wins and losses over a nine-game stretch, the Atlanta Hawks could get on a roll against the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers.
With Al Horford’s status unknown, the Hawks try to make it two in a row Monday night as they host a Cavaliers team mired in a season-worst eight-game losing streak.
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Sitting percentage points behind fifth-place Chicago and 1 1/2 games in back of Brooklyn for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta (41-33) opened a four-game homestand with Saturday’s 97-88 win over Orlando. Josh Smith had 21 points and nine rebounds and Devin Harris added 17 points and six assists, but it was Ivan Johnson who stole the show.
With Zaza Pachulia out for the season and Horford sidelined for a second straight game due to a stomach illness, Johnson compiled 21 points and 10 rebounds in a career-high 34:28 off the bench.
“(Smith) has great length and athleticism,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn. “The Hawks have big, strong, physical guys that make it tough to score on them. If it’s not Horford or Pachulia, then it’s Ivan Johnson.”
Atlanta improved to 5-0 when Johnson plays at least 28 minutes and 6-2 when he scores more than 10 points.
“He’s always – since last year – when somebody has gone out of the lineup, he’s been coming in and stepping up and playing big minutes for us,” said Smith, averaging 20.8 points over the last six games. “This has just been the Ivan Johnson that we’ve grown to know.”
Atlanta also got a boost from fellow reserve Shelvin Mack, who added eight points.
“Ivan was the man,” coach Larry Drew said. “And Shelvin Mack is kind of like a mini-Ivan with his energy.”
While the Hawks haven’t posted back-to-back wins since a three-game run March 13-17, they have to like their chances Monday.
Cleveland (22-50) has been outscored by an average of 13.7 points during its skid and saw its woes continue Sunday with a 112-92 loss at last-place New Orleans.
Kyrie Irving scored 31 points in his first game back since missing eight due to a shoulder injury, but the Cavaliers struggled defensively against the Hornets, who shot 54.1 percent and held a 45-31 edge on the glass.
“We came out soft (in the second half),” said coach Byron Scott, whose team was outscored 64-43 over the last two quarters. “I did not think we came out with the same intensity that we should have. I do not know if they were just tired or whatever the case may be.
“When you’re down 20 points, you cannot think to pick it up and try to come back. It just does not happen that often in this league.”
The Cavaliers had dropped seven straight to the Hawks by an average of 14.6 points before taking two of three meetings this season, including a 99-83 victory Jan. 9 behind 33 points from Irving. Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller added 11 points apiece and combined for 26 boards that night.
Irving is averaging 30.0 points on 61.1 percent shooting over his last three matchups versus Atlanta. While the Cavaliers have gone 9-4 when Irving scores at least 29 this season, they are 2-10 on the road when playing on the second of back-to-backs.
Cleveland has allowed 108.6 points per game in dropping five straight on the road.