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Hawks take losing streak into playoffs

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

ATLANTA -- Jason Collins spent all but six minutes on the bench when the Atlanta Hawks were swept by the Orlando Magic in a lopsided second-round playoff series last year.

With Mike Woodson as coach, Collins saw no action in two games and wasn't on the floor long enough to work up a sweat in the other two as the Hawks lost four straight by an average of 25 points.

Under first-year coach Larry Drew, Collins has played a much larger role as a part-time starter this season.

Collins was especially important when starting four games against Dwight Howard and the Magic. Collins helped the Hawks win three of the four.

It's no wonder Drew was so encouraged to see Collins, who missed the last four regular-season games with a sprained left ankle, return to practice on Thursday.

''Jason participated in everything we did,'' Drew said. ''He was moving around real well. I was really happy to see he didn't show as if the ankle was bothering him or anything. He looks like he's back.''

Collins likely will start Saturday in the opening game of the first-round series in Orlando as the Hawks try to atone for last year's playoff loss.

The Hawks also are trying to recover after closing the regular season with six straight losses, their longest losing streak in three years.

''I was a little disappointed with the way we finished that last week out, which was a concern of mine, particularly after we locked up the fifth spot,'' Drew said. ''I know some of the guys were expecting some games off and some guys did take some games off. I'm confident this team is going to flip that switch back.''

Drew, who was an assistant under Woodson, rested his starters down the stretch. The five starters combined for only 20 points, with none playing more than 25 minutes, in Atlanta's 96-85 loss at Charlotte on Wednesday night.

Collins, a 7-foot center known for his defense, started 28 games this season. He had modest averages of 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in the four games against Orlando, but his defense helped hold Howard to 43-percent shooting.

The addition of Collins to the lineup allowed Al Horford to move from center to power forward. Horford averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds against the Magic. Overall this season, he averaged 15.3 points while making his second All-Star team.

Horford didn't hesitate when asked why he is confident the Hawks won't suffer a repeat of last year's brutal playoff showing against Orlando.

''Just the lineup change,'' Horford said. ''Having a bigger guy guarding Dwight has made all the difference. That's why we are so confident.''

The big lineup also worked well for forward Josh Smith, who averaged 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the four games. He had 26 points in the Hawks' most recent game against Orlando, an 85-82 win in Atlanta on March 30.

Marvin Williams, the starting small forward in Drew's normal lineup, comes off the bench when Collins starts.

Collins won't be asked to take on Howard alone. The Hawks plan to use their depth at center with Collins, Zaza Pachulia and Horford.

''We definitely need to make this a physical series,'' Collins said. ''We need to use our fouls. We've got a lot of big bodies on this team.''