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In the Eastern Conference, Hawks defend a top spot

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 1/10/2014, 12:59 p.m.

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Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers taking a shot against the Atlanta Hawks of the Atlanta Hawks against of the Indiana Pacers on January 8, 2014 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images.

ATLANTA - There are only three teams with winning records in the NBA’s Eastern Conference—Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat…and your hometown Atlanta Hawks.

Going into Friday, Jan. 10’s matchup versus “The Beard” (James Harden) and the Houston Rockets (23-13), the Hawks (19-17) have proven to be a team with a persevering spirit that is producing a winning attitude and results.

No game proves that more than the Hawks’ 97-87 victory over the conference-leading Pacers, led by emerging superstar forward Paul George.

The Hawks went into that game with a three-game losing streak, which included a buzzer-beating defeat to the Golden State Warriors, as well as close losses to the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets.

With stymying defense, the Hawks’ DeMarre Carroll held the Pacers’ George to mortal production for most of the game, which forced the supporting cast to pick things up…but to no avail. By the time George could muster up 28 points (11-25 from the field) and 12 rebounds, it was too little too late.

“It was one of our best defensive games,” Hawks’ Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “Carroll really set the tone for us with his defense and his activity . . . I think the defense fueled the offense and fueled the energy that we played offense with.”

Good defense (8 Atlanta steals, 20 Indiana turnovers), turned into good offense (a 12-0 run to start the game, 14 Atlanta fast breakpoints).

Kyle Korver had his best night in a week-span, with 17 points on 6-8 shooting. He drained a downtown 3-pointer on a four-point play, as he extended his consecutive games streak with a made three to 105.

Add the solid play of center Pero Antic, forward Mike Scott, and second-unit leader guard Lou Williams, and the Hawks are finding guys that are used to just filling minutes…filling major roles.

This is just the sort of boost the team needs since recently losing their centerpiece Al Horford (who made an inspired locker room visit before the Pacers’ game) to a torn right pectoral muscle, which has sidelined him indefinitely.

The Hawks have a challenging stretch of games coming up, capped off by the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat touching down in Atlanta for a 5:30 p.m. MLK Day game Monday, Jan. 20.

But playing strong defense and hitting 3’s will get the Atlanta Hawks through it all. The proof is there.