Nets vs. Hawks preview: Atlanta tries to gain ground in race for homecourt advantage

Jared Wickerham

The Hawks trail the Nets by 1.5 games for fourth place in the Eastern Conference heading in Saturday's game.

An overtime loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday dropped the Atlanta Hawks (34-27) from fifth place to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. The good news for the Hawks, though, is they are still within striking distance of the fourth-place Brooklyn Nets (36-26). A win at home against the Nets at 7 p.m. Saturday could put Atlanta within a half game of fourth place and, most importantly, homecourt advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Josh Smith led the Hawks Friday, nearly notching a triple-double with 32 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. The Hawks had a strong second half in Boston, overcoming a first-half deficit to force overtime. The Hawks trailed by as many as 12 in the fourth quarter before mounting a comeback.

The Hawks will need a better effort from their bench Saturday in front of their home crowd, particularly Kyle Korver. Korver averages 11 points per game off the bench, but scored just three points on 1-for-5 shooting in 38 minutes against Boston. Atlanta's bench only produced eight points and shot just 2-for-12 overall.

The Nets have won two straight games, and also played Friday, beating the Washington Wizards, 95-78. Most encouraging for the Nets was the play of point guard Deron Williams, who scored a season-high 42 points -- including 11 three-pointers -- in the win over Washington. He has played well since the All-Star break, averaging nearly 25 points per game over his last six games. Williams and backcourt mate Joe Johnson, a former Hawk, combine to average nearly 35 points per game for the season.

Brooklyn and Atlanta have played twice this season, splitting back-to-back games on Jan. 16 and 18. Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 28 points and 11 assists in the Hawks' win on Jan. 16. Teague has averaged nearly 25 points and 11 assists per game in the two games against the Nets this season.

Williams had 24 points and seven assists in a Nets win on Jan. 18. Johnson has shot just 11 for 32 in two games against his former team.

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