Mavericks-Hawks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 18, 2013
The Atlanta Hawks seem to be comfortably headed to the playoffs for a sixth straight season, but that doesn't mean their content with their current position. The Hawks may find themselves tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference if they can extend their winning streak in a matchup against the visiting Dallas Mavericks on Monday night. Atlanta (37-29) is fifth in the conference, 11 1/2 games ahead of the ninth-place tie between Toronto and Philadelphia with 16 games remaining. The Hawks have a chance to climb the standings further since they're one game back of fourth-place Brooklyn, which trails Atlantic Division-leading New York by the same margin. The Nets open an eight-game road trip at Detroit on Monday, while the Knicks are in Utah. Atlanta pulled closer to the Nets on Sunday with a 105-93 victory in Brooklyn, its third in a row after a 1-6 stretch. The winning streak has rejuvenated the Hawks' confidence. "Huge, huge win," Al Horford said. "Now we're a game behind Brooklyn, so it was a big win for us. We're trying to be in the best possible position for the playoffs. Just a week ago, we were in the seventh spot, almost in eighth and now I feel like we're starting to play like a better team. We're close to the fourth spot. Realistically we'd like to go up to the third spot." Horford is looking to build on his 22 points from Sunday after averaging 14.3 over the four prior games. He had 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting, while adding 10 boards, three steals and two blocks in a 105-101 win at Dallas (31-35) on Feb. 11. Josh Smith had 26 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in that meeting. The forward was also impressive in the most recent matchup at home April 26, tallying 23 points, nine boards and seven assists in a 106-89 victory. He enters this one coming off a stellar performance against the Nets, accumulating 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks. While Horford and Smith are big reasons Atlanta is headed back to the playoffs, the Mavericks have ground to make up in the West as they try to qualify for a 13th consecutive year. It's not looking good, as Dallas is 11th in the conference, four games back of the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final position. The Mavs didn't do themselves any favors Sunday, losing 107-101 to Oklahoma City. "We've got to continue playing hard, finding ways to stay positive obviously and go out there to win every game that we play," guard O.J. Mayo told the team's official website. Mayo may want to heed his own advice since he's averaging 10.2 points over the past five games after scoring nine against the Thunder. He leads Dallas with 16.8 ppg, and had 19 against the Hawks last month. Dirk Nowitzki averages 26.2 points in 13 games in Atlanta, and he had 24 in the latest overall matchup. The forward had a team-high 23 points Sunday, shooting 8 of 10 from the floor and 3 of 4 from behind the arc. Shawn Marion missed his sixth straight game with a strained left calf Sunday and it's unclear when he'll return. That leaves the Mavs without their best defensive player, who also averages 16.0 points and 8.1 rebounds in 14 career visits to Atlanta.
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