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Hawks-Cavaliers Preview

AP - Sports

After earning back-to-back home wins, the Atlanta Hawks are hoping to keep their momentum going during a road-heavy stretch.

A visit to Cleveland might help get that off to a victorious start, but the Cavaliers beat the Hawks last month and will be seeking to build on their first win streak of the season Friday night.

Atlanta (17-9) endured one of its worst stretches this season earlier this month, losing three of four, but bounced back with wins against Chicago and Detroit over the past week.

In the latter of those games Wednesday, the Hawks blew a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter but came away with a 126-119 win in double overtime. Josh Smith had a season-high 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, while Al Horford chipped in 22 points and 10 boards.

"A couple of times I thought we were dead in the water," coach Larry Drew said. "It was a really hard fought win."

Smith had a team-best 25 points against Cleveland on Nov. 30 and was one of six Atlanta players in double figures but Alonzo Gee's putback in the final second gave the Cavaliers a 113-111 victory at Philips Arena. Jeremy Pargo, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao each had 20 or more points as Cleveland snapped a seven-game skid in the series.

"We've got to go up there and play better than we did here," Drew said. "We know that we can play better. That's our goal and that's our focus."

The Cavaliers head into this matchup having earned back-to-back victories for the first time since a three-game win streak March 7-11, but coach Byron Scott was hardly pleased with his team's play in an 87-84 victory in Washington on Wednesday.

Cleveland (7-23) shot 37.8 percent and Kyrie Irving scored only six of his team-best 26 points in the second half while missing nine of 10 shots.

"I should be a lot happier than I am, I guess,'' Scott said. "But some of the boneheaded mistakes that we made ... we've just got to be a little bit smarter when the game's on the line like that.

"We feel pretty good about the two wins. Now it's just trying to build on them."

The Cavaliers will have to do that without Varejao, who has been ruled out of this game and Saturday's contest at Brooklyn with a bruised right knee.

Having won three straight in Cleveland, Atlanta could make it difficult for the Cavaliers to add to that streak and avoid a season high-tying fourth consecutive home defeat. The Hawks, 7-4 on the road this season, won 103-87 in their only visit last season March 18.

Atlanta will play eight of its next 11 games on the road and Smith will try to help get that stretch off to a positive start with another strong performance against Cleveland. Along with his 25-point performance in November, the Hawks forward had 32 points and 17 rebounds in a 103-102 overtime win over the Cavaliers on March 21.

A broken left finger kept Irving out of the most recent matchup. He averaged 22.0 points on 55.8 percent shooting and 7.0 assists in last season's three meetings.

"We have a task before us in defending him," Drew said. "He can make shots. He's good off the dribble. He finds people. He's a very skilled point guard. It won't just be one guy's responsibility. It will be everybody's."

Irving had 29 points, nine assists and a career high-tying nine rebounds in the overtime loss in March.

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