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Short-handed Hawks still fourth in conference

Atlanta Hawks' Tracy McGrady, Kirk Hinrich, and Josh Smith, from left, sit on the bench during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, in Atlanta. Miami won 107-87. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Atlanta Hawks' Tracy McGrady, Kirk Hinrich, and Josh Smith, from left, sit on the bench during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, in Atlanta. Miami won 107-87. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATLANTA -- One month after Atlanta center Al Horford went down with a possibly season-ending injury, the Hawks are staying afloat in the Eastern Conference despite occasional ugly losses.

A lopsided home loss to Miami on Sunday served as a reminder of how much the Hawks miss Horford. Without Horford, who is recovering from a torn left pectoral muscle, and backup center Jason Collins, who has missed 10 days with a sprained left elbow, the Hawks were overwhelmed by Miami, 107-87.

The loss followed back-to-back wins over Indiana and Orlando that have helped keep the Hawks fourth in the Eastern Conference.

General manager Rick Sund said Monday the Hawks, who play at the Lakers on Tuesday night, have surprised some by not collapsing after Horford's injury on Jan. 11.

"I think they've done a good, solid job," Sund said. "A lot of people felt we didn't have a chance losing a two-time All-star in Al."

The Hawks (18-10) are 11-6 since Horford tore his left pectoral muscle. Some observers were not impressed when the Hawks won their first four games after Horford's injury against Charlotte, Minnesota, Toronto and Portland.

Since then, the Hawks have taken some more impressive wins, including at New Orleans, at Orlando and against Indiana.

Atlanta hasn't enjoyed consistent strong play. The Hawks lost three straight at home to Memphis, Philadelphia and Phoenix before the back-to-back wins over Indiana and Orlando.

With Horford's left arm still in a sling, the Hawks couldn't keep up with the Heat, especially near the basket. Miami outscored Atlanta 44-28 in the paint and outrebounded the Hawks 52-38.

Joe Johnson and Josh Smith combined for only 20 points while making only 9 of 25 shots from the field. The Hawks depend on the two for better production.

When Johnson scores at least 20 points, the Hawks are 12-1. When Smith scores at least 20, the Hawks are 7-0.

Horford provides a calming influence the Hawks have missed as they have struggled to respond to other teams' runs.

"Hopefully we can get better in that area," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. "It's not a time to hang your head, when teams make a run."

Sund said Johnson, who will be Atlanta's only All-Star, and Smith have picked up their play since Horford's injury.

"Both Josh and Joe have stepped up during that time for the most part and then the rest of the players dug in and have contributed," Sund said.

"Our club got together and said we're still a playoff caliber club and right now we are still on a playoff caliber pace."

The Hawks hope to have Horford back for the playoffs. In the meantime, the team is trying to survive.

Collins, who sprained his left elbow on Feb. 2, will be examined on Wednesday. The team signed veteran center Erick Dampier to a 10-day contract on Feb. 9 and likely will re-sign Dampier to another 10-day deal before making a decision on the remainder of the season.

Zaza Pachulia has averaged 8.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in 14 starts at center. He had eight points and nine rebounds against Miami.

"He's done a really admirable job filling in," Sund said.

Dampier had four rebounds in six minutes behind Pachulia. It was only Dampier's second appearance since joining the team. He could play a bigger role against the Lakers.

"I thought was good for him because there's not much very much practice time," Sund said. "This allows him to get up and down and he looked like the same Dampier, at least (Sunday) night, that he was last year and the year before."