The Atlanta Hawks have had a tough time trying to stop Chicago's offense on the road in recent years. They may find that task easier with the Bulls missing one of their leaders.Undefeated and showing an increased dedication to defense, the Hawks look to snap a seven-game losing streak at Chicago on Tuesday night.
Atlanta (5-0) is off to its best start since winning 11 straight games at the start of the 1997-98 season. Though the season is young, the Hawks have developed one of the NBA's top defenses, holding opponents to 85.8 points per game and 40.4 percent shooting from the field.
"These guys tasted a little success last season when we got in the playoffs against the Celtics, and they know what that feeling is like," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "And they want to get back."
Poor defense, though, has hurt Atlanta in road games against Chicago. The Hawks have allowed an average of 100.6 points while losing their last seven road meetings with the Bulls (3-4).
Atlanta hasn't won at Chicago since a 116-101 victory on April 9, 2004.
The Bulls are 3-1 at home this season and are averaging 100.3 points per game there, but found out Friday night that guard Kirk Hinrich needs surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb and will miss up to three months.
Hinrich was hurt in Chicago's 100-83 victory over Phoenix on Friday, creating a leadership void and leaving the Bulls without a reliable backup point guard behind No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose.
Hinrich was averaging 8.3 points and 4.0 assists in what was mostly a backup role to Rose. The Bulls went with Thabo Sefolosha at shooting guard the first five games but he struggled, so coach Vinny Del Negro started Hinrich alongside Rose against the Suns.
In Saturday's 106-97 loss to Cleveland, Ben Gordon joined Rose in the starting backcourt and scored a team-high 29 points.
"I think we can still lean on each other," Gordon said. "Especially with Kirk out, we're going to have to really jell quickly and get to know each other so we can help each other out."
Atlanta, meanwhile, is coming off its first game without defensive standout Josh Smith, who will miss two to four weeks with a sprained left ankle.
The Hawks ended up having one of their best defensive games of the season in spite of Smith's absence, beating Oklahoma City 89-85. They held the Thunder to 39.1 percent shooting from the field - the second opponent this season Atlanta held under the 40-percent mark.
"We miss him. But on the same token and the same note, we've still got to come out here and try to fight and try to win," Hawks guard Flip Murray said. "We've still got to hold it down while he's out. Other people have got to come in and step it up."
Atlanta replaced the 6-foot-9 Smith in the starting lineup with 6-foot-11 center Zaza Pachulia. Pachulia, though, had only six points in nine minutes as the Hawks struggled on offense, shooting a season-worst 37.2 percent.
Joe Johnson scored 25 points for Atlanta, virtually matching his team-best 25.2 season average. He averaged 23.0 points in four games versus the Bulls last season, with each team winning two of those contests.