Atlanta (40-31) at Philadelphia (36-34)

By ALAN FERGUSON, STATS Writer Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011 Tipoff: 7:00 pm EDT Wed Mar 23, 2011

The Atlanta Hawks are close to clinching their fourth consecutive postseason berth, but haven’t performed like a playoff team for much of the past two months.

Judging by their latest game and their most recent matchup with the 76ers, the Hawks could face an uphill climb Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

After winning their first three games in February, Atlanta appeared in good position to compete for the right to host a first-round playoff series. Then came a 117-83 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers that started a slump the Hawks still haven’t shaken - as indicated by Tuesday’s 114-81 home loss to Chicago., their 13th defeat in 20 games.

It wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate. Atlanta (40-31) trailed by many as 47 points before the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls benched their starters for the final quarter.

“It’s starting to get embarrassing. We’re too good a team to be getting blown out of our own gym,” forward Josh Smith(notes) told the NBA’s official website.

Al Horford(notes) left in the third quarter with a strained hamstring, but Atlanta coach Larry Drew said he expects Horford to play Wednesday.

Philadelphia (36-34) has won 19 of 28 in the last two months, moving from ninth to sixth in the Eastern Conference during that span. The Sixers, who trail fifth-place Atlanta by 3 1/2 games and are one game ahead of seventh-place New York, may need to continue their strong play without Andre Iguodala(notes).

The starting forward sat out with an ailing right knee Saturday at Portland, as the Sixers fell 110-101 to conclude a 2-3 road trip.

Philadelphia shot 50.0 percent but couldn’t recover after falling behind by 11 points in the second quarter.

“Some games you kind of beat yourself,” said forward Elton Brand(notes), who had 10 points and nine rebounds. “We felt like we made too many mistakes, but they played great. They beat us and they played great.”

One positive for the 76ers was a combined 59 points from their bench, with Lou Williams’ 24 leading the way. Fellow reserve Thaddeus Young(notes) added 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

Williams had a team-best 20 points during last month’s win over Atlanta, in which Philadelphia’s reserves totaled 54 points. The 76ers lost their only previous home game against the Hawks this season, 104-101 on Oct. 29 - the fourth win for Atlanta in its last six visits to the Wells Fargo Center.

Iguodala had a season-high 27 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in a losing effort, while Horford had 20 points and 12 rebounds and Smith blocked six shots for the Hawks.

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Wednesday, Mar 23