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.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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