Atlanta (44-35) at Washington (21-58)

By MATT BEARDMORE, STATS Writer Saturday, Apr 9, 2011 Tipoff: 7:00 pm EDT Sat Apr 9, 2011

The Atlanta Hawks know they’ll have to win on the road if they’re going to advance in the playoffs. A game versus the Washington Wizards could help the Hawks regain their confidence away from Philips Arena.

Atlanta tries to avoid a season high-tying fourth straight loss Saturday night when it goes for its eighth straight victory in the nation’s capital and 13th in a row overall over the Wizards.

Locked into the No. 5 spot in the East, the Hawks (44-35) know they will travel to fourth-seeded Orlando for the opening round in a rematch of last season’s conference semifinals won by the Magic in four games.

While Atlanta can take some confidence into this playoff series having won three of four against Orlando this season, coach Larry Drew needs his team play better defense to get past the Magic.

Since giving up 83.8 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting in a four-game winning streak March 26-April 1, the Hawks are allowing an average of 108.3 points on 51.9 percent from the field during their slide.

Forward Josh Smith(notes), who is averaging 16.7 points with 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, has been sidelined the last two games with a sprained right knee.

“Regardless of what our situation is, whether we’ve got guys here or whether we have guys out, you still have to come out and you still have to compete,” Drew said following Friday’s 114-102 loss at Indiana. “You have to be a presence very early, you have to play with a sense of urgency very early, and we didn’t do that.”

Atlanta, which has dropped 10 of 15 on the road, will try to get back on track by sweeping the Wizards (21-58) for the third consecutive season.

After winning two home games against the Wizards, the Hawks posted their 12th straight victory in this Southeast Division matchup Feb. 5, 99-92 in Washington.

“It becomes very psychological. I wasn’t even aware of (the streak),” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said after that defeat. “I don’t think usually what happens in previous years has a lot to do with what happens this year. It’s good ink to write about.”

There hasn’t been much good to write about with Saunders’ team, which is a league-worst 3-37 on the road following Friday’s 104-88 loss at Boston. Washington, though, has been competitive at home (18-21) and it has one of the NBA’s most talented young backcourts with rookies John Wall(notes) and Jordan Crawford(notes), who was acquired from Atlanta in a five-player deal Feb. 23.

Wall, the No. 1 overall pick, is averaging 16.3 points and 8.5 assists, while Crawford is scoring 22.4 points per game while starting his last 14.

The Hawks’ frontcourt will also have to contend with Andray Blatche(notes), who is averaging 26.0 points and 13.2 boards in five games this month.

Joe Johnson(notes) leads Atlanta with 22.3 points per game against Washington this season.

The Hawks are undefeated in this matchup since a 102-98 overtime home loss Jan. 11, 2008.

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Saturday, Apr 9