The Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks are both off to fine starts a quarter of the way through the season, but they'll each have something significant to prove Saturday night.Both the Hawks and Mavericks look to bounce back from embarrassing losses when they meet in Dallas, where Atlanta has lost five straight and 10 of its last 11 games.
Atlanta (13-6) won 11 of its first 13 games to jump ahead of defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando atop the Southeast Division, but its last six games have shown coach Mike Woodson's club still has plenty of room for improvement.
The Hawks had lost three of four - including a 17-point home loss to Orlando - before routing Toronto 146-115 on Wednesday, their best offensive night in 16 years.
Defense was Atlanta's problem on Friday when the New York Knicks visited, and part of that was due to the loss of its best defender. Josh Smith, the NBA's leader in blocked shots, was called for two technical fouls after complaining about the defense of New York forward Al Harrington midway through the second quarter, and the Hawks lost 114-107 to the 5-15 Knicks.
"(Smith) just can't put himself in that position again," Woodson said.
Joe Johnson scored 29 points but missed all five of his 3-pointers, and Atlanta finished 4 of 23 from beyond the arc. New York shot 57.7 percent with Smith out, the highest field-goal percentage by a Hawks opponent since New Jersey shot 58.2 percent on March 19, 2008.
"Defensively, we were non-existent tonight," Woodson told the NBA's official Web site. "We suddenly ran out of juice, but it was an uphill climb all game."
The Mavericks (14-6), meanwhile, may have suffered an even more shocking loss Friday - particularly considering they didn't lose one of their five starters midway through.
Dallas scored 77 points in the first half of a 117-101 rout of then-winless New Jersey on Wednesday, but barely eclipsed that total in 48 minutes at Memphis. The Mavericks shot a season-low 35.2 percent in a 98-82 loss, their second by 16 points in the past four games.
"I just think our body language was really soft," said forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds but was 7 of 22 from the floor. "I think we had good looks. We didn't set picks, but we got some good shots we usually like. The overall energy and body language wasn't great."
The Hawks will definitely need Smith to step up and defend Nowitzki, who's averaged 25.6 points in the Mavericks' last seven games versus Atlanta. Dallas has won 10 of 11 home games against the Hawks since Nowitzki entered the league.
While the Mavericks have two elite scorers in Nowitzki and former Atlanta guard Jason Terry, the NBA's reigning sixth man of the year, they've struggled to find a third scoring option with Josh Howard still recovering from ankle surgery.
Shawn Marion, who missed three games in mid-December with an ankle injury, is averaging 12.1 points - his lowest since his rookie season - and hasn't scored more than 15 in nearly a month.
Marion had a season-low four points in the loss to the Grizzlies.
"It seems like everything we did out there was kind of lethargic," he said.
Johnson, who was averaging 14.3 points on 35.8 percent shooting in his last six games before a strong performance against the Knicks, averaged 28.0 points as the Mavericks and Hawks split two meetings last season.
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