Hawks win, now have best record in NBA

Down two of their best wing defenders – and the Hawks still won.

And they did it against the team with the third-best record in the Western Conference, no less.

Welcome to Atlanta, where the incredible is happening.

The short-handed Hawks used a fourth-quarter run and a strong bench effort for a 105-99 victory over the Trail Blazers Friday night in front of a sold out Philips Arena crowd announced at 19,018.

The Hawks (39-8, 22-3 home) have won 18 straight and 32 of 34 games. They have not lost in January (16-0). The 18-game run is tied for the ninth-longest winning streak in NBA history.

The Hawks now have the best record in the NBA after the Warriors lost to the Jazz Friday to drop to 36-8.

Starting small forward DeMarre Carroll missed the game due to a left Achilles strain. His replacement Thabo Sefolosha left the game after just 2:21 with a right calf strain.

Enter Kent Bazemore. The wing came in and played a team-high 40 minutes and had 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. He was not alone. Mike Scott was 3 of 3 from 3-point range, including a key fourth-quarter basket, on his way to 11 points.

“We have a resilient group,” Al Horford said. “You have to give credit to our bench guys staying ready. Tonight, it happened to be Kent Bazemore. He came in and he changed the game. Guys are working and they are waiting for that opportunity. He took advantage of it.”

Bazemore was returning from a bathroom break when he met Sefolosha coming off the court with his injury.

“You never really foresee those kinds of things (playing so much),” Bazemore said. “It’s funny because I had just run back here to use the bathroom, and go back and Thabo says, ‘Coach is taking me out.’ And next thing you know, I’m playing 40 minutes.”

In addition to Bazemore and Scott, the Hawks got double-digit scoring from all four of the remaining starters. Paul Millsap led the way with 21 points followed by Horford (17), Kyle Korver (16) and Jeff Teague (13).

The Hawks swept the season series against the Trail Blazers with another in a long list of impressive victories.

The Trail Blazers (32-15) lost for the seventh time in the past nine games. LaMarcus Aldridge led them with a game-high 37 points and 11 rebounds. Damian Lillard, playing after being an All-Star snub, finished with 13 points on 6 of 20 shooting, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

The Trail Blazers took a 51-50 lead into intermission in a back-and-forth first half that featured 13 lead changes and five ties. The Hawks led by as many as four points and the Trail Blazers led by as many as six.

The Trail Blazers made 7 of their first 8 3-pointers and finished the half making 8 of 15 from long range for the early narrow lead. Aldridge, who entered the game sixth in the NBA in scoring at 23.6 points, had 21 points by the half.

The Trail Blazers pushed their lead to five points, 74-69, heading into the final quarter. The Hawks shot just 28 percent (5 of 18) from the field in the period.

It was a halftime speech from Carroll, in street clothes, that sparked the turnaround.

“We came in here at halftime and DeMarre challenged us,” Horford said. “He just said ‘We need to be better defensively. You guys need to get out there and play harder.’ And we did that and that was the difference.”

Teague described the motivational moment as “some barking.”

“He told us we need to pick it up defensively and guys listened,” Teague said. “We made it tough on them.”

After the Trail Blazers’ hot start from 3-point range, they made just 4 of their next 22.

The Hawks opened the fourth quarter on a 12-2 to grab a five-point lead, 81-76. They would never trail again and brought the home crowd to its feet time and again.

“It was beautiful to see all that red and all that cheering tonight,” Teague said. “It gets a little emotional. It’s a long time coming.”

With the Hawks holding a one-point lead, 89-88, Scott and Millsap hit 3-pointers on either side of a Schroder layup. The Hawks had their biggest lead of the night, shared by both teams, of six points and they held on for another victory.