Nearly four weeks have passed since the Atlanta Hawks earned a comfortable victory. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Josh Smith has been out just as long.Smith is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday, and the Hawks will look to take advantage at home against a Memphis Grizzlies team that's lost six straight games in one-sided fashion.
Atlanta's last victory by more than six points came Nov. 7, when the Hawks (10-6) beat Toronto 110-92. They lost Smith to a sprained ankle in that game after the 22-year-old forward had averaged a double-double in his first three contests.
Coach Mike Woodson's team won the next two games to improve to 6-0, but the Hawks ended up going 6-6 without Smith. Nearly all of Atlanta's victories in that span were close ones, a trend that continued Saturday, when the Hawks built a 17-point third-quarter lead before holding on to win 102-98 at Washington.
Al Horford had 19 points, 13 rebounds and a key three-point play in the closing seconds, but the Hawks almost lost despite each starter scoring at least 14 points. Mike Bibby added 21 points and six assists for Atlanta.
"I don't like games to get that close," Woodson said. "We make it close coming down the stretch."
Perhaps the return of their second-leading scorer from last season will help Woodson's team pull away more frequently late in games. Smith scored 17.2 points per game in 2007-08 and averaged 14.0 points and 10.7 rebounds in the first three contests this season - all impressive Atlanta victories.
Smith also totaled 10 blocked shots in those games, setting the tone defensively as the Hawks allowed an average of 84.0 points against three playoff teams from last season. He'll try to shake off some rust and provide a similar effort Wednesday.
"I'll be 100 percent," Smith told the Hawks' official Web site. "I've just got to work on getting my wind back under me and my timing, but from an injury standpoint, I think I'm ready to play."
The Hawks have been ready to play at home all season, going 5-1 at Philips Arena. Including three wins over eventual NBA champion Boston in last season's playoffs, they've won 14 of their last 18 there.
The Grizzlies (4-13) haven't been able to win anywhere lately. Despite playing at home against a team that came in with a 14-game losing streak, they fell 111-103 to Oklahoma City on Saturday.
Memphis held an 11-point halftime lead, but gave up 68 points in the second half to the Thunder, who came in averaging a Western Conference-low 90.4 points.
"Obviously, it was a tough loss," Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni said. "They lost 14 in a row, and they were hungry."
The Grizzlies should be, too, having lost six straight and 10 of 11. Although they've shot 55.1 percent from the field in their last three games, their defense has been woeful, giving up an average of 112.3 points during that span.
Memphis has lost by an average of 12.2 points during its six-game skid.
Among the few bright spots lately has been rookie guard O.J. Mayo, who has reached the 30-point mark in each of the last two games. He's averaging 27.5 points and 56.4 percent shooting over the last four contests.
Memphis won six in a row against Atlanta from 2003-06, but the Grizzlies have lost all four games to the Hawks over the last two seasons. The most recent meeting was a 116-99 Atlanta victory in Memphis on March 31 in which Smith had 26 points and eight rebounds.