4/9 Game Preview: Celtics at Hawks

It's a tight race for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference, and the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics can take a big step towards gaining it Saturday night.

These clubs enter with identical 47-32 records, and both are playing well with the Hawks winning 11 of their last 14 games and the visiting Celtics winners of four straight.

Atlanta and Boston are tied for the Eastern Conference's third-best record, with both currently in position for home-court advantage of the first round of the playoffs. Those positions are precarious, because Miami and Charlotte lurk one game behind them.

It means Saturday's winner will move very close to gaining that home advantage. This contest could also be a preview of a first-round series.

"You never know which team we can play in the playoffs, so as a team we're going to take it serious," Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. "We want to win every game and we've just got to be ready."

Thomas is very close to his season average in averaging 22.0 points in three meetings against Atlanta, although Boston has lost twice. Jae Crowder is the only other Celtic averaging in double figures at 15.0.

The Hawks have enjoyed better balance in the season series with five players averaging at least 12 points, led by Paul Millsap's 19.7. What has been surprising is that Jeff Teague is not in that group, scoring only 9.3 per contest on 31.8 percent shooting.

Thomas is averaging 25.0 points in Boston's win streak, with 20 on 7-of-9 shooting in Friday's 124-109 victory over Milwaukee. He logged just under 25 minutes as the Celtics got plenty of rest as they try to improve the East's second-best mark in the second half of back-to-back games to 13-6.

The Hawks should be confident after beating one of the teams ahead of them in the standings with Thursday's 95-87 victory over Toronto. They limited the Raptors' high-scoring duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to a total of 32 points on 13-of-39 shooting.

"It was a total team effort," guard Kyle Korver said. "We're working on a few things on defense and some of that helped tonight. It really doesn't matter what your coverage is. I think guys were just really locked in and focused."

Teague led the way with 23 points to match his average over the last five games, a span in which he's shooting 48.2 percent. Millsap had 13 points and 14 boards for his third straight double-double, matching a career best with his 30th.

Atlanta tries to cap this homestand with a 3-1 mark in its last regular-season game at Philips Arena. It has held every opponent on it to below 40.0 percent from the field, limiting Toronto to 38.1.

"Our defense kind of gave us a chance to win a tough game against a very good team," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "It's a good win at home."

These teams lead the East in assist-to-turnover ratio, with Boston at 1.75 and Atlanta at 1.73.


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