A showdown between the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets hardly seemed reasonable just a few weeks ago.
But a showdown is somewhat the case when the teams meet Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C.
Atlanta and Charlotte have similar records and could be contending for home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Hawks are 28-25, in the No. 5 spot in the conference standings and have continued their surge under interim coach Nate McMillan. The Hornets are 27-24 and in the No. 4 spot as they come off a solid road trip.
“From here on out, there are going to be tough games,” McMillan said. “You’re going to have this type of intensity.”
Atlanta won for the fifth time in its past six games Friday night, highlighted by a strong fourth quarter in a 120-108 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Charlotte went 4-2 in six consecutive road games, capped by Friday night’s 127-119 win over Milwaukee.
“Our group has continued to get better,” Hornets coach James Borrego said.
Atlanta’s injury list has been significant.
Clint Capela (sore left Achilles) and Danilo Gallinari (sort left ankle) had been questionable for Friday’s game. That didn’t seem to be an issue because Capela had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Gallinari had 20 points in support of Trae Young’s 42-point outing.
“He came out (and) got aggressive,” McMillan said of Young’s leadership. “This just shows growth for him. This is something he’ll continue to have to do for the remainder of the season.”
Nothing seems to be too big of an obstacle for the Hawks recently. They’ve won eight of their past 12 road games.
“The chemistry is getting better,” Gallinari said.
Charlotte swept a home-and-home set from Atlanta in early January in the only meetings this season.
Charlotte’s Gordon Hayward had 44 points in the first matchup, and rookie LaMelo Ball had a triple-double in the next game. Neither of those Charlotte players will suit up for Sunday’s game.
“We have more than enough, and we can get this done,” Borrego said of lineup challenges.
The Hornets showed that with some impressive numbers at Milwaukee, where they compiled at least 32 points in each of the first three quarters. They had 35 assists and 10 blocked shots.
Limiting turnovers is going to be crucial for Charlotte.
“We’re going to take some chances with this group,” Borrego said. “We have to take some chances to score.”
Guard Malik Monk also remains out of Charlotte’s lineup, though Borrego said he might be close to returning to action.
The Hawks are bound to be without injured forward John Collins (left-ankle sprain), who had 23 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting with Charlotte. Young was held to seven points in that game.
Cam Reddish, who had 21 points in the second matchup with the Hornets, has been out with an Achilles’ injury.
“It’s an adjustment you have to make when you have injuries,” McMillan said.
Sunday’s game opens a three-game homestand for Charlotte.
–Field Level Media