Jazz-Hawks preview

The Jazz have dropped two in a row going into tonight’s home game with the Atlanta Hawks and, quite frankly, a third straight loss is a real possibility.

The Hawks (32-23) are the second-best team in the Southeast Division (a full nine games behind the Miami Heat) are No. 5 in the Eastern Conference standings.

They’re on three-game winning streak.

For Atlanta, tonight’s game is the third in a six-game road trip which includes future stops in Phoenix, L.A. (to play the Lakers) and Denver.

The Hawks don’t draw a lot of media attention in the East, but they’re a solid team, averaging 95 points a game on the road. Four of their five starters average in double figures, led by forward Josh Smith (17.3 points per game) and center Al Horford (16.8, plus 10 rebounds and 3.2 assists).

The Jazz (31-26) lost to the Clippers in L.A. last Saturday and to Boston at home on Monday.

Starting power forward Paul Millsap (15.1 points per game) has a sprained left ankle and has been listed as a game-time decision.

Millsap scored 20 points and added 13 rebounds and five assists when the Jazz lost in Atlanta on Jan. 11.

Utah’s top scorer is center Al Jefferson (17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds). Swingman Gordon Hayward is averaging 14.1 points coming off the bench.

Hayward is averaging better than 20 points in his last three games.

“We have to come together and, I think, slow down a little bit,” Hayward said. “We have to just realize that (opposing teams) trying to speed us up. We’ve got to continue to do stuff that got us in position (before) we got into a rut. The things that worked for us early on, we’ve got to keep doing that.”

The Jazz are in third place in the Northwest Division standings and No. 7 in the West playoff picture, a half-game ahead of No. 8 Houston, which plays host to Milwaukee tonight.

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About Jim Burton

Jim Burton has worked for the Standard-Examiner since 1991. He has covered everything from the preps to Utah, BYU, Weber State and the Ogden Raptors. Currently he is the Standard's Utah Jazz beatwriter and its sports columnist.
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