Surging Hawks host slumping Hornets (Dec 17, 2016)

BY AP • December 16, 2016

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks hope to compound the misery currently being felt by the Charlotte Hornets.

Charlotte brings a four-game losing streak into Saturday's game against a Hawks team that has won three of its last four.

Atlanta (13-13) scored an impressive 125-121 road win in Toronto on Friday, just two weeks after losing to the Raptors by 44 points. Charlotte (14-13) was playing without leading scorer Kemba Walker and dropped a 96-88 decision at Boston on Friday.

Charlotte won the first meeting against Atlanta on Nov. 18 when it overcame a 10-point deficit to win 100-96 in Charlotte.

The Hornets will get Walker back on Saturday. The point guard missed Friday's game with an excused absence to take care of a personal matter. Walker is leading the team in scoring with 22.6 points per game and is considered a good candidate to make the All-Star team.

Atlanta guard Kent Bazemore returned Tuesday against Orlando but he was still struggling with the right knee soreness that kept him out for the previous two games. Bazemore scored five points against the Magic and scored seven points in 22 minutes against Toronto.

Atlanta's season has been puzzling for coach Mike Budenholzer, especially considering the team's 9-2 start.

"I don't know exactly how I would describe it, but there is some level of frustration," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. "There is some level of optimism. I do think we are doing some things better. We need to do more things better for more of the 48 minutes."

Charlotte has been up-and-down since winning eight of its first 11 games. The Hornets won three straight before embarking on their current road trip, where they've lost to Cleveland, Indiana, Washington and Boston.

Coach Steve Clifford has encouraged the Hornets to play more physically.

"If guys aren't willing to be more physical, we'll be an up-and-down team," he said. "We'll struggle to make the playoffs. If we want to play with the physicality we choose to at times, we have a chance to be a good team."

The Hornets got 22 points and 10 rebounds from guard Nicholas Batum against the Celtics, but had no answer for Boston's Isaiah Thomas, who poured in 26 points in his return to the court. The Hornets were outscored 27-19 in the fourth quarter.

Atlanta got a strong inside effort from Dwight Howard and superior point guard play from Dennis Schroder on Friday. Howard had 27 points and 15 rebounds and Schroder scored 24 points. Schroder is averaging 25.3 points over the last three games.

Howard scored his 16,000th career point on Friday and passed Elgin Baylor for 26th on the career rebound list with 11,465.

"We've just got to stay locked in," Howard said. "We've got to forget about (the Raptors win) and get ready to play again on Saturday."

Atlanta will honor legendary announcer Craig Sager on Saturday with a moment of silence. The long-time Atlanta resident died of leukemia on Thursday.

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