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Raptors-Hawks Preview

AP - Sports

Just more than a week ago, an abysmal stretch for the Atlanta Hawks seemed to be jeopardizing their chances for a seventh straight playoff appearance.

They've now seemingly righted their defensive woes and gotten back on track with their longest winning streak of the season.

Atlanta will try to continue its recent home mastery of the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.

The Hawks (30-35) have won four in a row since dropping 14 of their previous 15, and improved defense appears to be keying the turnaround. They've held their last three opponents to 90.7 points per game on 39.3 percent shooting, including a 29.0 percent clip from 3-point range. Over Atlanta's previous 13 contests, opponents were averaging 109.4 points on 45.2 percent shooting, including 38.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Monday's 97-83 win at Charlotte trimmed the Bobcats' lead for seventh place to 1 1/2 games. Atlanta held Charlotte to 35.3 percent shooting, including 28.9 percent and 31 points in the second half. It was the fewest points allowed in a second half by the Hawks since holding Chicago to 30 in an 83-80 victory on March 2, 2011.

"The activity and the effort and the commitment on the defensive end in the second half allowed us to beat a very, very good team tonight," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "That's something that we want to continue to build on and continue to improve as we go down the stretch here."

Paul Millsap, who is averaging 23.0 points over his last four games, scored 28 and was one of four Hawks with at least two 3-pointers. They're shooting 42.8 percent from long range over the last five games.

Toronto, which has dropped nine of 11 at Atlanta, is letting opponents shoot 45.2 percent from long distance over its last four games.

These clubs split two earlier meetings, with the Hawks going 4 of 20 from distance in a 104-83 road loss on Feb. 12. Atlanta hit 10 of 23 3-point attempts in a 102-95 home win on Nov. 1.

DeMar DeRozan scored 31 in each and is averaging 24.9 points in his last seven meetings.

The Raptors (37-28) own a three-game lead for first place in the Atlantic and have won eight of 11 despite a 121-113 home loss to Phoenix on Sunday.

Kyle Lowry had 28 points and 13 assists and Terrence Ross added 22 points, but Toronto's bench was outscored 59-11. The Raptors have tallied 20 or fewer bench points in three straight games for the first time this season and have been without Patrick Patterson - who averages 9.3 as a reserve - for their last five due to a right elbow injury. Patterson is listed as out for Tuesday.

Toronto came close to losing another key player when Lowry was briefly treated after being kneed in the head twice during a loose-ball scramble, though he remained in the game after a timeout and is expected to play Tuesday.

"I got kneed in the head, bad," said Lowry, who is averaging 22.0 points and 9.8 assists over his last five games. "I've got a headache right now."

The Raptors will be looking for their 18th road victory for the first time since 2001-02. They're in striking distance of the franchise record of 20 road victories (2000-01) with eight more games away from home remaining after Tuesday's contest.

Millsap is shooting 57.4 percent over 14 career games against Toronto, which is his highest against any opponent.

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