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Bobcats-Hawks Preview

AP - Sports

Over the last few weeks, Atlanta's offense has made huge strides under first-year coach Mike Budenholzer.

The offense will face tremendous adversity over the next few weeks as it begins to adjust to life without leading scorer Al Horford.

The Hawks play their first game since learning Horford tore his right pectoral muscle Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats - a team they've defeated nine times in a row.

Horford left in the first overtime of Thursday's 127-125 double-overtime win at Cleveland. Atlanta (16-13) said an MRI and examination on Friday revealed the complete tear of the muscle, leaving his status for the remainder of the season in question.

''We will work with Al and complete our due diligence to determine the next best steps for him,'' Hawks general manager Danny Ferry said in a statement. ''Injuries are part of the challenge of an NBA season.''

Horford emerged as a good fit in Budenholzer's offense, averaging team highs of 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. The Hawks are 11-3 when he scores at least 19, but 5-10 when he scores 18 or less.

Pero Antic, who averages 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.5 minutes, may take Horford's spot in the starting lineup, while Gustavo Ayon and Elton Brand are expected to see increased minutes.

If there is any good news for Hawks fans, Horford tore his left pectoral muscle 11 games into the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and missed the rest of the regular season but was able to return for the playoffs.

Currently third in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta, even with Horford sidelined indefinitely, still has a good shot of making the playoffs in a down East.

Horford had played a big part in Atlanta's offensive eruption, averaging 22.6 points on 63.0 percent shooting in the last five games. The Hawks are averaging 120.4 points on 51.2 percent shooting in that span, losing only at Miami in overtime on Monday.

Jeff Teague sent Atlanta to double-overtime with a game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds left in the first extra period, and hit the winner at the buzzer of the next session. He finished with a career-high 34 points on 14-of-24 shooting and added 14 assists.

Horford was instrumental in a 103-94 win at Charlotte on Nov. 11, the season's lone meeting. He scored 13 of his 24 points in the third quarter while the Hawks outscored the Bobcats 34-16, turning an eight-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead.

The Hawks have won nine straight in the series, and their last four home victories have come by an average of 20.7 points.

The Bobcats (14-16) are opening a five-game road trip after suffering an 89-85 loss Friday to an Oklahoma City team playing without Russell Westbrook. Charlotte had a chance for the win but Josh McRoberts missed an open 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left.

The close loss against one of the league's best teams did little to encourage Bobcats coach Steve Clifford.

''This may surprise you, but I didn't like at all the way we played,'' he said. ''I didn't like our defense. Our attention to detail was not good at all. The things we talked about this morning that we had to do, we did a poor job with. We gave them baskets. Our effort on the glass was not anywhere it needs to be.''

Charlotte is 6-5 since Dec. 6, averaging 107.7 points in the wins but just 86.4 points in the defeats.

Al Jefferson, who was working his way back into playing shape in the first meeting with Atlanta, is averaging 21.8 points and 11.2 rebounds in the last five games.

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