Atlanta's Al Horford thoroughly outplayed New York Knicks center Eddy Curry in February. The rookie's strong play in the paint is just one reason the Hawks have a chance to end an eight-year playoff drought.Curry is out for the season, giving Horford a little more room to work for the Hawks as they continue their postseason push when they visit the Knicks on Sunday night.
Atlanta (27-38) is in a tight race with numerous teams for the eighth and final playoff spot in the mediocre Eastern Conference.
The Hawks beat the Los Angeles Clippers 117-93 on Friday night for their largest margin of victory this season, two days after losing to red-hot Houston despite holding the Rockets to 83 points.
"I'm just telling these guys we have to take it one game at a time," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "If we can defend like we have the last couple of games, we'll put ourselves in position to win some games."
Horford - the third overall pick in last year's draft - anchors the Hawks' interior defense, averaging 9.7 rebounds per game and one block a contest. On Feb. 29, Horford had a career-best 20 points and added 11 rebounds as Atlanta beat New York 99-93.
Curry, Horford's counterpart, was held to nine points and two rebounds in one of the worst games of what was a frustrating season for the veteran, who will have season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
Curry, who struggled playing alongside fellow big man Zach Randolph, will have a piece of torn cartilage removed next week, the Knicks (19-46) said Friday. He averaged 13.2 points per game after posting a career-best 19.5 in 2006-07.
With Curry out, Horford and Josh Smith will likely have an easier time in the paint.
Atlanta, though, has been terrible on the road, losing six straight and 19 of 21. The Hawks are 7-25 away from Philips Arena on the season, averaging 91.7 points.
At Madison Square Garden, Atlanta has dropped three in a row and 13 of its last 14.
The Hawks continue to struggle even though leading scorer Joe Johnson is averaging 23.7 points and 7.3 assists in his last three road games. The veteran guard had a game-high 28 points against the Clippers.
Johnson scored 30 points or more in three straight games versus the Knicks before a 20-point effort in the teams' matchup last month.
Jamal Crawford, New York's top scorer, finished with 23 points in a 91-88 win over Miami on Wednesday night as the Knicks snapped a seven-game losing streak.
"We need all the wins we can get right now," said Crawford, averaging 20.7 points and 5.0 assists a contest. "We're not going to the playoffs, but we're going to try to finish strong."
This is one of three meetings left this season between Atlanta and New York.