Bobcats-Hawks Preview

The Associated PressApril 4, 2012

A tough slate of games and several injuries led to a difficult end to March for the Atlanta Hawks, but they can put that behind them during a more favorable stretch in their schedule.

The Hawks host the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night for the first of two meetings against the NBA's worst team this week.

Atlanta is in a tight race with Indiana and Orlando for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs but lost three of four to close out March, including 95-90 at Philadelphia on Saturday.

The Hawks (31-23) finished the month with a depleted roster. With Al Horford already out, Atlanta also found itself without Jannero Pargo (appendectomy), Vladimir Radmanovic (back) and Jerry Stackhouse (personal).

Pargo, though, has returned to practice and could play Wednesday. Stackhouse may also be available.

The Hawks are trying to boost their record during a favorable stretch in their schedule. Their next three games are against teams under .500, including another matchup with the Bobcats (7-44) on Saturday.

"I think we are in favor coming down the stretch as far as other teams we are competing with," guard Joe Johnson said. "We just have to come out and take care of business."

Of their final 12 games, eight are at home and half are against teams with losing records. The Hawks are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, one game behind fifth-place Orlando and 1 1/2 behind third-place Indiana.

"Everybody is right there," coach Larry Drew said. "As I told the coaches, this thing is going to jump around from now until the end with the way we are all bunched up. ... It's going to be interesting to see how this thing shakes loose."

Atlanta has won both games against Charlotte this season, led by Josh Smith's 26.5 points and 13.0 rebounds. Smith finished March strong, averaging 26.3 points over the last eight games, and he scored a season-high 34 against the 76ers.

The league-worst Bobcats have lost eight straight after falling 92-87 at Toronto on Tuesday.

Byron Mullens had 20 points and 14 rebounds and Kemba Walker, starting in place of the injured D.J. Augustin, scored 10 points and added seven assists as the Bobcats shot 40.3 percent.

Augustin came off the bench and had 18 points and seven assists. He hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left to cut Charlotte's deficit to 88-87, but after Toronto scored, the Bobcats turned the ball over when Mullens' 3-point attempt was an air ball and went out of bounds.

Mullens was making his second straight start as coach Paul Silas tries to play his younger players more down the stretch. The third-year pro, who is averaging 9.2 points, had 20 points and nine rebounds in a 110-107 overtime loss to Detroit on Saturday.

"He just continues to amaze me," Silas said. "Twenty points and 14 rebounds, I don't think anybody would have guessed he could have done that."

Charlotte, playing the third of a four-game trip, has lost five straight on the road and is 3-24 away from home.