Hawks’ Horford could miss at least 2 games

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ATLANTA (AP) - Al Horford’s sprained ankle could leave the Atlanta Hawks without two starters for at least two games, but there was no sense of panic Thursday.

The Hawks are confident they can withstand this latest test to the team’s depth as they chase Miami in the Southeast Division.

In fact, the Hawks believe their 93-89 win at Miami on Tuesday night was an important indicator they have better depth than the Heat, who have also had a recent rash of injuries.

“I would think that it does,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said Thursday. “I think, not trying to compare both teams, the bottom line is any team that loses a player that started, there has to be other players to step up. They have got to elevate their games.”

The Hawks are only two games behind the first-place Heat, who have lost four straight. While Miami has stumbled, Atlanta has won eight of its last 10 despite playing nine straight games without starting forward Marvin Williams.

Horford hurt his right ankle early in the third period against Miami. Mo Evans had 11 points and Jamal Crawford had 19 off the bench against Miami to take pressure off top scorer Joe Johnson.

“We’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Evans said Thursday. “We’ve got guys on our bench who are hungry for an opportunity and hungry to prove their worth. We’ve got a lot of depth and hopefully we’ll take advantage of it.”

Horford did not practice Thursday and is listed as doubtful for the next two games, including a home game against New Orleans on Friday. The Hawks play at Charlotte on Saturday.

“The ankle is sore,” Drew said. “It sounds like he’s going to be day to day. We’ll see how he is” Friday.

Williams continues to recover from a lower back injury. He returned to practice on Thursday and said he felt no discomfort, but he has not been cleared for any contact.

Williams also is doubtful for the next two games.

“From what I’m told, the back maybe still is a little weak,” Drew said of Williams. “It’s something we want to take our time with. We want him as close to 100 percent as possible.”

The Hawks could open with Evans at small forward and Jason Collins at center against New Orleans. Drew said he expects more minutes from Zaza Pachulia and Josh Powell on the front line.

The injury to Horford provides only the latest in a series of lineup challenges for Drew.

Johnson was out nine games with an elbow injury. Crawford missed six games with back and toe injuries. Evans was out eight games with a sore knee.

The first half of the season has been a dramatic change from the 2009-10 team, which had few injuries and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference with 53 wins before losing in the second round of the playoffs.

“I think this year’s team has definitely had a lot more adversity,” Johnson said. “Somebody has always been out. I don’t know if we’ve ever been fully healthy to where we’re able to play together for a whole week.

“I think we’re a lot more mature and it’s starting to show out there on the court. We’re starting to come together.”

Drew, the former Hawks assistant under Mike Woodson who is in his first season as coach, has stressed defense and more balanced scoring as strengths to help the team overcome injuries.

The Hawks have four players scoring more than 16 or more points per game: Johnson, Josh Smith, Horford and Crawford. Williams and Mike Bibby also have averages in double figures.

“Guys have stepped up big-time,” Drew said. “We feel the strength of our ballclub is not just one guy, it’s us as a team. When we play both ends of the floor, we’re a pretty good ballclub.”

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