Jazz-Hawks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 25, 2012
A six-game winning streak still hasn't left the Utah Jazz much room for error in the crowded Western Conference. The Atlanta Hawks' win streak is more modest, but their playoff future seems far more certain. Fatigue could play a big role as the Jazz and Hawks both conclude back-to-back-to-back stretches Sunday night at Philips Arena. Utah (26-22) has been among the league's hottest teams, winning seven of eight and six in a row, including a 121-102 victory over Denver on Friday. That surge has moved the Jazz into the thick of the playoff race. They are one of six teams separated by 1 1/2 games fighting for the final five playoff spots. Balanced scoring has been key for Utah, which has had six players score in double figures in four of the wins during the current streak. The Jazz have averaged 105.7 points in that stretch. "There are no super stars on this team so we're going to have to play together night in and night out for us to try and have some success," said Al Jefferson, who scored 23 points one night after finishing with 25 in a win over Sacramento. The Jazz had a season-high 32 assists Friday, with Devin Harris matching a season best with nine and Gordon Hayward adding seven. After losing his spot in the starting lineup earlier this month, Hayward has averaged 14.7 points, 7.3 rebonds and 4.7 assists in his last three starts. Atlanta will be the first stop for Utah on a three-game trip against Eastern Conference teams, two coming against playoff contenders. The Jazz are 7-16 on the road this season even with wins in their last two away from home. "It's clicking, but we've still got a ways to go," Jefferson said. "We're not where we need to be. We've still got to continue to work hard because there's 18, 19 games left and a lot can happen." Utah will look to win seven in a row for the first time since Nov. 20-Dec. 1, 2010, when it faces an Atlanta (29-20) team that has won three in a row and five of six. The Hawks escaped with a 95-92 win at Washington on Sunday when John Wall missed a potential tying 3-pointer right before the buzzer. Joe Johnson scored nine of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to help Atlanta rally from a 16-point deficit. Josh Smith scored 18 of his 20 points in the first three quarters and had nine rebounds. After allowing Washington to shoot 51.1 percent in the first half, the Hawks held the Wizards to 29.4 percent in the fourth quarter. Johnson and Smith were on the bench at the start of the period, but came back in to spark the rally. "I know some guys were tired, some guys were a little banged up, and we were basically playing catch-up the whole game, and in that fourth quarter we were able to get over the hump," coach Larry Drew said. "We don't panic, and that's a sure sign of a veteran team." It was the second straight game the Hawks, who are tied with Indiana for the fifth seed in the East, were behind late against an opponent with a losing record. They trailed by seven at the end of the third quarter Friday before defeating New Jersey 93-84. Atlanta has won four of five against Utah after losing 11 of the previous 12 meetings.
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