Timberwolves-Hawks Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Hawks are hoping injuries to some key players don't stop their recent run of success.

Facing the Minnesota Timberwolves also might help keep things headed in a positive direction.

The banged-up Hawks look to defeat the Timberwolves for an 11th straight time Saturday night in Atlanta.

Already dealing with day-to-day injuries to starting forward Marvin Williams (ankle) and key reserve Tracy McGrady (back), Atlanta (8-4) learned this week that All-Star forward Al Horford (12.4 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game) will miss at least three months with a torn pectoral muscle in his shoulder.

"That was very disappointing news,'' forward Josh Smith said.

Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Hawks blew out Charlotte 111-81 on Thursday in their first game without Horford. Smith had 30 points and 13 rebounds and Joe Johnson added 23 points with eight assists as the Hawks won for the fourth time in five games.

"We all understand that we have to step our games up in some respect,'' Johnson said. "It was a great team effort, collectively, around the room (Thursday). Everybody stepped up and did something to make an impact on the game. We're going to need that from here on out."

Six players scored in double figures for the Hawks, who are 4-1 at home, averaging 107.0 points in those contests.

"If we can just maintain until some of the other guys get back in there, I think we'll be OK," Smith said.

Smith has done his part, averaging 24.0 points in the last five games after putting up 11.7 per contest in his previous seven.

"He's playing big every night, it seems like,'' Johnson said. "He's got an edge, a chip on his shoulder.''

Smith has averaged 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in his last three games versus Minnesota, which has dropped 10 in a row to the Hawks since an 84-83 home win April 9, 2006. The Timberwolves (4-7) are also mired in an eight-game skid at Atlanta that dates to a 103-93 victory Nov. 20, 2002.

Minnesota avoided a third straight defeat overall by winning 87-80 at New Orleans on Friday. Kevin Love had a season-high 34 points with 15 rebounds while Ricky Rubio added 12 points and nine assists, and hit the tiebreaking free throws in his first NBA start.

"My teammates expect me to go out there and perform,'' said Love, averaging 24.5 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. "Win, lose or draw, whether I'm having an off night or shooting 100 percent from the field, they are going to be with me."

In six career games against the Hawks, Love has scored more than 20 only once - 22 in a 111-105 loss at Atlanta on Nov. 14, 2010.

Rubio, the 21-year-old rookie from Spain, continues to get more comfortable in his new league while averaging 11.7 points and 9.3 assists over the last six contests.

The Timberwolves will again be without starting forward Michael Beasley (12.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg) because of a foot injury and key reserve J.J. Berea (11.4 ppg) due to an ankle problem.