Home streak ends at 10 as Hawks lose to Rockets

There seemed to be all the elements for a relatively stress-free night for the Hawks on Saturday.

Houston came to Philips Arena with a 17-23 record after losing in overtime to New Orleans on Friday night. The Hawks, who last played Wednesday at Toronto, had won five consecutive games overall and 10 in a row at home.

But some of the Rockets' struggles are related to injuries. They recently won at Eastern Conference leader Boston, and they posed some matchup problems for the Hawks.

"They are a tough team," Hawks guard Joe Johnson said before the game. "They play hard. They've got good, heady guards and they've got good post men.

"It's going to take a collective team effort to step up to the challenge. It's going to be tough. It's not going to be no easy game."

It turned out to be a frustrating game for the Hawks, whose lack of defense and rebounding were exposed by the Rockets in a 112-106 defeat.

The Rockets used dribble penetration to get open shots, made enough of them while rebounding misses, and then waited for the Hawks' hot shooting to cool.

Houston used that plan to stay close for three quarters before taking control in the final period. The Rockets built a 101-88 lead with 5:21 to play and then held off the Hawks.

Scoring wasn't a problem for the Hawks, who shot 49 percent from the field. Johnson (30 points) Al Horford (24) and Josh Smith (21) all topped 20 points.

But the Hawks gave up too many easy baskets each time they threatened to blow the game open. They couldn't control Rockets guard Aaron Brooks (24 points, 10 assists) or forward Louis Scola (20 points) and were beaten 45-32 on the boards.

The Hawks took a 26-17 lead, but were down 58-26 at the half. The Hawks led 76-69 in the third quarter, but Houston scored on five of its last six possessions of the period to get within 83-82 entering the final quarter.

Kyle Lowry's 3-pointer capped an 18-5 Rockets run to start the third quarter. Johnson's 3-pointer cut the lead to 103-98 with less than three minutes left, but Brooks answered with a driving basket and then his fourth 3-pointer to make the score 106-98.

The Rockets are a capable offensive team with a collection of accurate shooters. Specifically troublesome for the Hawks, whose perimeter defense is a weakness, were Houston's quick guards getting into the lane and breaking down their defense.

"They do things with urgency," Drew said before the game. "We are going to have to be good defensively at containing the ball, keeping Brooks out of the lane and making sure to get back and keep him on the perimeter."

Instead, Brooks exploited that advantage. He had six assists in the first half, when Scola scored 18 points, and then had 17 points and four assists after halftime.