The Atlanta Hawks have stumbled during a three-game losing streak. With Al Horford sidelined for at least the next three games, they'll have to try to solve their problems without one of their best defenders.They'll also have to do it on a western swing, which starts on Tuesday night against the offensive-minded Phoenix Suns.
Defense has been a top priority for the Hawks (22-14) during a solid start after their first playoff appearance in nine seasons. Atlanta was one of just 10 NBA teams to allow fewer than 95 points per game through Jan. 3.
But the Hawks have given up an average of 112.0 points in their last three contests, with opponents shooting 50.9 percent. After getting swept in a home-and-home set with Southeast Division-leading Orlando, they lost for just the fourth time at home this season, 109-94 to Philadelphia on Sunday.
"We're not competing defensively like we have been, and that's on me," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "I've got to get them back playing defense because that's the only chance we have of winning."
The Hawks are 4-9 when allowing 100 or more points, something that's happened in six of their last eight games. A loss on Tuesday would match the club's longest skid of the season, a four-game slide from Nov. 12-18.
Horford, the team's leader with 1.6 blocked shots per game, missed Sunday's game with a bone bruise in his right knee and won't travel on the trip, which also includes games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State.
"It's part of the NBA," Atlanta guard Joe Johnson said. "There are going to be injuries. That's not an excuse for why we're losing. We're just not playing with energy at the start of the game."
The Hawks fell behind 10-0 against the 76ers after getting outscored 41-18 in the first quarter at Orlando on Friday.
Johnson had 25 points on Sunday, but he had averaged 12.8 points - nearly 10 below his season average - in his previous four games. He's shooting 35.4 percent in five January games, with Atlanta having lost four of them.
Johnson has also struggled in his last two games against Phoenix, averaging 12.0 points and shooting 6-of-31 (19.3 percent) from the field against the team that traded him to the Hawks before the 2005-06 season.
The Suns (21-13) have taken advantage of a soft schedule lately, winning five of their last six, with four victories against teams at least 15 games under .500.
Sunday's 109-103 road win was Phoenix's second over the Clippers in that stretch. Amare Stoudemire led the way with 26 points, while Grant Hill and Jason Richardson each had 21 for the Suns, who've averaged 110.4 points in their last 14 games.
Shaquille O'Neal's resurgence has been a major factor over that span, averaging 22.1 points and 10.1 rebounds in his last 11 games.
The veteran center had 15 points and 10 rebounds against Los Angeles, making all five of his free-throw attempts. The notoriously poor free-throw shooter has now made 12 straight at the line.
"I'm trying to get my name in the top five in scoring by the time I'm done, so I'm just trying to get as many easy points as I can," O'Neal said. "I was always a pretty good free throw shooter in high school. ... I'm just shooting it the way I was taught to a long, long time ago."
O'Neal wasn't with the team the last time the Suns faced Atlanta, as Phoenix won 125-92 at home behind 10-of-11 shooting by Stoudemire on Jan. 29.