Suns-Hawks preview

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By Natalie Rivers By Natalie Rivers

(AP) -- The Atlanta Hawks are struggling to find production down low with two of their centers sidelined due to injury.

The Phoenix Suns may have found someone to help Marcin Gortat in the paint.

Atlanta looks to avoid a season-high third straight defeat Monday night when the visiting Suns go for a fourth consecutive victory in this series.

With two-time All-Star Al Horford gone for at least three months due a torn left pectoral muscle he sustained Jan. 11 and Jason Collins likely out two weeks due to a sprained left elbow suffered in Thursday's 96-77 home loss to Memphis, the Hawks (16-8) need Zaza Pachulia to be a bigger presence near the basket. He is averaging 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in the 13 games since Horford went down, with Atlanta posting a 9-4 mark in those contests.

Despite that success, forward Josh Smith isn't satisfied with the Hawks' frontcourt play without Horford.

"We haven't been having a post player since Al left," Smith said after scoring nine points with 10 rebounds and seven blocks in Saturday's 98-87 home loss to Philadelphia.

Still, Hawks coach Larry Drew likes the lift undrafted rookie power forward Ivan Johnson has provided off the bench. Johnson's production - 24 points and 22 rebounds - over the last two games has been one of the few bright spots as Atlanta now seeks to avoid its first three-game losing streak since an 0-6 skid to end last season.

"I started Ivan (in the second half on Saturday instead of Pachulia) because he brings the energy," said Drew, whose team opened 8-1 at Philips Arena before losing the first two on its current four-game homestand. "... If he keeps providing that, he's going to play more minutes."

Backup center Robin Lopez could find himself in a similar position for the Suns (9-14) after scoring nine consecutive points during a 12-2 fourth-quarter run in Saturday's 95-89 home win over league-worst Charlotte.

Lopez finished with 13 points in 19-plus minutes after scoring 16 in his previous seven games combined.

"Robin came in, did a great job and really gave us a big lift and got us over the hump," coach Alvin Gentry said.

Starter Marcin Gortat has been putting up big numbers all season, averaging team and career highs of 15.2 points and 10.3 rebounds. He has double-digit rebounds in 15 consecutive games, matching Kevin Love for the longest such streak in the NBA this season.

Gortat scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench Feb. 23 as the Suns won their third straight in this series, 105-97 in Phoenix.

Steve Nash had 19 points - including four crucial free throws in the final seven seconds - and 15 assists in the Suns' last trip to Atlanta, a 118-114 victory Nov. 7, 2010.

The two-time MVP is averaging 19.0 points and 11.2 assists in his last 10 road games versus the Hawks.

If Jared Dudley misses a second straight game with a thigh bruise, Nash could be joined by Michael Redd in the Phoenix backcourt. Making his first start since Jan. 10, 2010, Redd hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 points Saturday.

"To come back, through the (ACL and MCL) tears, through the hurt, through the hours of rehab, training to come back and accomplish this is maybe the most proud moment of my career," said Redd, who hasn't played more than 33 games in a season since 2007-08.

Hawks leading scorer Joe Johnson - a former Sun - scored 34 points the last time Phoenix was in town.

Atlanta's last three-game home skid was March 4-8.