Game Thread: Hawks say they are a better team now

TORONTO -- The Hawks have eight losses this season and two of them are to the Raptors.

While the Hawks are not putting too much emphasis on this game (as per usual), they did make a couple of points about the matchup following Friday morning’s shootaround.

1. The two losses game early in the season. The Hawks played the Raptors twice in the first 13 games. Following the last loss, in November, the Hawks started their current run of win is 24 of the past 26 games.

“We definitely feel like we are a different team,” Kyle Korver said. “… I think what is really cool about this group, and everybody tries to say this but I feel we really do this, we take each game like it’s its own game. We’ve done a good job of not saying ‘Man we’ve won a bunch of games in a row. We can let up. We have a lead in the standings and we can cruise a little bit.’ Everyone has been approaching every game like it’s a new game. We know we’ve lost to them twice and we haven’t lost a whole lot this year. This is a big weekend. There hasn’t been anything two extreme, which is healthy.”

2. Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll went so far as to say the Hawks are better now than they were then.

“The way we have been playing speaks volumes by itself,” Carroll said. “We don’t put any extra pressure on ourselves that we have to beat these guys because they beat us twice but in the back of our minds we still have to remember that.

“We are way better. … Everybody knows their role. Our bench is better. The starting group is getting off to a good start. And defense is the backbone of our team.”

3. The Raptors are a good team. Coach Mike Budenholzer said his team has a healthy respect for the Raptors, who slipped only slightly in 21 games without start DeMar DeRozan.

“They are a good team,” Budenholzer said. “Every group there are certain nights when you know your challenges are going to be even greater. They put you in a lot of tough spots. I don’t think losing to them twice is extra motivation. They are a really good team and you need to be disciplined and you need to compete every possession because they are good. That’s why they’ve beaten us a couple of times.”

In other items:

* One of the top matchups tonight will be at point guard between Jeff Teague and Kyle Lowry. The Raptors guard is 18th in the NBA in scoring (18.3 points) and sixth in assists (7.8). Teague is averaging 17.5 points and is ninth in the league in assists (7.2) and steals (1.8).

“Kyle Lowry is one of the toughest matchups in our league at the point guard position,” Budenholzer said. “He strength, his physicality, his competitiveness. Jeff is just going to have to be ready to battle him on both ends of the court. He makes it difficult for you offensively. Jeff is going to have to be ready to guard. It will be a big night for Jeff. It’s a big challenge for us.”

* And on a lighter note, as I was speaking to Korver this morning, Steve Holman walked over and handed him a ‘Vote Kyle’ button he found on the floor of the Air Canada Centre. It was a team giveaway to vote Lowry into the upcoming All-Star Game.

“They are rooting for you here,” the radio voice of the Hawks said.

Korver promptly took the button and pinned it on his shirt.