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Hawks continue to flex defensive muscles in win over Hornets

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The Atlanta Hawks are among the league leaders in team defense and showed why with a smothering effort in Sunday's win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks continued to flex their defensive muscles with an 87-76 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday at Philips Arena. While much has been made of Atlanta's space and pace offense during Mike Budenholzer's first three seasons as the team's head coach, it is the Hawks' play at the defensive end that deserves attention. Atlanta set the tone early on Sunday holding the Hornets to nine points on 2 for 21 shooting in the first quarter and 33 percent shooting for the game.

"It's good to get a win before we go out on the road," Mike Budenholzer said after the game. I think the defense, for the last two or three games, I think we're hanging our hat there."

The Hawks are currently third in the NBA in defensive rating 99.5 points per 100 possessions. Since January 1st, Atlanta is tops in the league in defensive rating at 97.7. Interestingly enough, the Hawks are just 12-14 over that span of 26 games.

"Hopefully, we just keep working on the offense," Budenholzer added. We can get better there, but it's good to be on a better side of the first quarter. That gave us separation and the cushion to hold them off. In NBA games, there are a lot of comebacks. Tonight wasn't any different, but in the end, our defense came through. A couple of guys came off the bench. Obviously, Al and Jeff....Baze from the start to the end set a defensive tone. It was a good team win."

Five different Hawks players finished in double figures led by Kent Bazemore as he snapped out of a shooting slump to score 14. He knocked down both of his three-point attempts to raise his three-point percentage to 25 percent during the month of February.

"It was a good night for us offensively and defensively," Bazemore said. I thought we did some things good for a very long time throughout the game. We were able to hold on for 48 minutes and we got a win."

Charlotte rallied from a 24 point deficit to cut the lead to just two points in the fourth quarter. However, big buckets by Bazemore and Al Horford were enough to stop the run and to help Atlanta preserve the win.

"We just keep doing what we are doing," Bazemore replied when asked about the Hornets' comeback attempt. "They had some guys pick it up there - Marvin Williams was huge for them throughout the game, keeping it tight with some three's. Jeremy Lin came in and scored off the bench. We just weathered the storm. This is the second time where the game has gotten close and we found a way to get our lead back."

Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to make the most of his opportunity

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 11 points off the bench for the Hawks on Sunday in what Mike Budenholzer called one of his best performances of the season.

"I think so, if you put both ends of the court," Budenholzer said when asked if this was the best performance of Hardaway's season. "He's been doing well defensively and I thought the floater going down the lane, it was like a four-point game when he got to the paint and made that shot. The layup in transition was big. I think he made a great pass to Al. Al wasn't quite able to finish. He did a lot of good things offensively additional to his defense."

It has been a long journey for Hardaway Jr who opened the season out of the rotation but has improved each month. He finished Sunday's game 5 for 8 from the floor and beat the first quarter buzzer with a three-point bomb from just beyond half court.

"It felt really good, it doesn't matter as long as we get the win," Hardaway said after being asked about getting crunch time minutes. " It doesn't matter who is out there on the court."

The overall numbers for Hardaway Jr are still a work in progress. He is shooting 40 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range. He is averaging a season-best 6.2 points during February and shooting 45 percent from the field but just 26 percent from three-point range.

As Hardaway's shot chart shows, he has done a good job of finishing in the paint and at the rim but has struggled to knock down long-range attempts.

The advanced numbers are more optimistic and show a great deal of improvement at the defensive end of the floor for Hardaway. His 93.2 defensive rating is currently the second-best mark on the team and his net rating of 11.1 is tops. Sample size rules apply in this case but for a guy that was known as a turnstile on defense prior to his arrival in Atlanta, this is a positive development.