One week ago, the surging Atlanta Hawks easily beat a New Orleans Hornets club struggling to find its footing under new head coach Jeff Bower.Neither team has lost since.
Seeking their longest winning streak in 12 years, the Hawks visit New Orleans on Saturday night for a rematch with Bower's revitalized Hornets.
Atlanta (11-2) hasn't won its division since 1993-94, but currently owns the NBA's best record thanks to its winning streak, which reached seven Friday night with a 105-103 home victory over Houston. Josh Smith had nine points - failing to reach double figures for only the second time this season - but scored the winning basket on a putback of a Mike Bibby miss with 0.7 seconds remaining.
Now, Atlanta has an opportunity to win eight in a row for the first time since opening the 1997-98 season with 11 straight victories.
Marvin Williams led the Hawks with a season-high 29 points and nine rebounds while shooting 13 of 19 from the field.
"He was phenomenal," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "He was solid from beginning to end. We went to him. He continued to make them."
Williams was quiet against the Hornets last Saturday, finishing with seven points, but it didn't matter against a New Orleans club searching for an identity without fired coach Byron Scott and injured point guard Chris Paul - sidelined indefinitely after spraining his left ankle Nov. 13 in a loss to Portland. The Hawks beat the Hornets 121-98, putting them in position to sweep this two-game series for the second consecutive season.
That loss dropped New Orleans to 0-2 under Bower, the general manager who assumed the head coaching role after last week's firing of Scott. The Hornets (5-8) have played much better since, following Tuesday's 110-102 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers with a 110-103 win over Phoenix on Thursday.
Peja Stojakovic led the way against the Suns with 25 points - 21 of them on seven 3-pointers - and 13 rebounds.
"It's still the regular season, (but) for us it was a very important win," he said. "We are too good to quit. We have good talent on this team and you can't give up. ... We did struggle in the beginning of the season. Hopefully we can just raise our level of playing and get some consistency."
Rookie Marcus Thornton added 19 points Thursday. Thornton, a second-round draft pick out of LSU, is averaging 15.8 points in the four games since Bower took over. He failed to reach double figures in any contest while Scott was coaching.
Darren Collison, also a rookie, had 15 points and five assists while replacing Paul as the starting point guard.
"Darren and Marcus - I don't know what to say about those kids," Stojakovic said. "They're showing maturity out there on the court and I'm really happy for them. Darren has really stepped up in CP's place and Marcus coming off the bench - he's instant offense."
Stojakovic had 25 points in the loss in Atlanta last Saturday, while Hawks guard Joe Johnson had 26 to lead all scorers.
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