A brutal stretch of schedule wasn't doing much for the Atlanta Hawks before they delivered a lockdown defensive effort to defeat one of the top teams in the NBA.The Hawks hope to replicate that performance against another team battling for playoff position in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night, when they look to strengthen their hold on fourth place with a road game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Atlanta (43-31) lost at East-leading Cleveland last Saturday in the opener of a rough eight-game span that's included home losses to San Antonio and Boston.
In addition to the game against the Sixers (37-35), the Hawks also visit the Celtics and host Southeast Division-leading Orlando before the rough stretch ends. Atlanta, however, has to be feeling better about its chances to win those games after defeating the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers 86-76 on Sunday.
The Hawks held the Lakers to a season-low point total while limiting Kobe Bryant to 17 points and 7-for-19 shooting, perhaps aided by Bryant's upset stomach that forced the MVP candidate to miss the morning meal and film session.
"We had just lost two very important games," said Hawks guard Joe Johnson, who scored 10 points and went 4-for-18 but led the defensive effort against Bryant. "We needed to get back on the winning side. This was probably one of our biggest games of the season."
Hawks coach Mike Woodson was pleased with his team's performance and expects similar ones in the final eight games of the regular season. Atlanta has clinched its second consecutive playoff appearance but is battling for home-court advantage in the first round.
"We met a little bit after our last game, and talked about these last nine games, where we have to come out and be the aggressor," Woodson said. "Tonight, we were solid from beginning to end. And that's how we have to play the rest of the way out, as we get closer to the playoffs."
The Sixers could steal home court in the first round with a strong finish and a Hawks collapse, but they'd first have to pass fifth-place Miami. To do so, they'll need to play better than they have in their last two games - a home loss to Charlotte on Friday and a 101-97 defeat at Detroit on Sunday.
Andre Iguodala had 27 points and Thaddeus Young added 22 against the Pistons, but the Sixers were outscored 22-14 in the fourth quarter.
"Every loss is tough down the stretch," Iguodala said. "I think that we played hard and what happened, happened. We just try and go out and play hard and let the chips fall wherever they may."
Philadelphia center Samuel Dalembert left in the first quarter with a leg injury and didn't return. His status for Tuesday is uncertain.
The Sixers and Hawks split their first two meetings, both in Atlanta. Johnson had 35 points and went 14-for-23 from the field in the Hawks' 95-88 win Nov. 1, then scored 25 in a 109-94 loss Jan. 11.
Iguodala had 27 points, six rebounds and nine assists while going 9-for-13 in the Jan. 11 game. He's averaging 22.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 49.5 percent from the field in his last seven contests against Atlanta.