There is proof — and plenty of it — that Al Horford once again is the Hawks’ model of consistency.
The center is tied for second in the NBA, and leads the Eastern Conference, with 39 double-doubles this season. He has hit the double-figures mark in points and rebounds in nine of the past 10 games, including five consecutive after Wednesday’s victory over the Bucks. He has surpassed 20 points and 10 rebounds 19 times this season.
Only the Warriors’ David Lee, with 45, has more double-doubles. Horford is tied with the Lakers’ Dwight Howard and the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph.
“I expect to play good games,” said Horford after 26 points and 15 rebounds against the Bucks. “As long as we play within our team offense, I feel like that is where I am most efficient when we are moving the ball and I’m getting the pick-and-pops and the pick-and-rolls. I don’t know if I expect these types of numbers, but I definitely expect a lot out of myself.”
Horford played in only 11 regular-season games last season before a torn left pectoral muscle sidelined him. He returned May 6 for the final three games of the first-round playoff series loss to the Celtics. Horford said he is at near full strength from that injury and is completely over calf and hamstring issues that bothered him earlier this season.
The two-time All-Star is the Hawks’ leading scorer with 17.4 points per game, good for 23rd in the NBA. His 10.2 rebound average ranks ninth in the league and his 55.0 field-goal percentage ranks 11th.
“When you give him that top-of-the-key jump shot, he’s pretty accurate from there,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said following Wednesday’s game. “He’s an All-Star player. That’s what All-Stars do, night in and night out. That’s why they’re All-Stars.”
Horford’s mid-range jumper has been especially effective this season. He has shot more than 44 percent from both 15-19 feet (119-of-268, 44.4 percent) and from 20-24 feet (26-of-59, 44.1 percent). That has become a valuable weapon for the Hawks as Horford, playing undersized at center, has drawn the opposition’s big men away from the basket.
“Every time he just shoots it, no pump-faking for anything,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “It’s a great shot. I think it’s going in every time he shoots it. I think he does, too.”
In the 17 games since the All-Star break, Horford has averaged 21.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 blocks per game with 12 double-doubles.
The Hawks (38-30) entered Thursday’s NBA schedule fifth in the Eastern Conference, with leads over the Bulls (one game), Celtics (1 1/2) and Bucks (3 1/2) for the final spots. They trail Pacers (four games), Knicks (three) and Nets (two), well behind the Heat, for a chance to host a first-round playoff series. With the victory over the Bucks, the Hawks trimmed their magic number to four to clinch the team’s sixth consecutive playoff berth.
The Hawks host the Trail Blazers on Friday to end a three-game homestand. A four-game trip, with three key conference matchups, follows in a week that will go a long way in determining playoff position. A rematch with the Bucks begins the trip Sunday, followed by games against the Pacers on Monday, the lowly Raptors on Wednesday and the Celtics on Friday.
“It means a lot,” Horford said of Wednesday’s win over the Bucks. “We beat them up there (Feb. 23), and it was important for us to get this win. We know they are going to be ready to go Sunday, especially in Milwaukee.”
The Trail Blazers feature two double-double machines of their own. Wheeler High graduate J.J. Hickson is tied for fifth in the NBA with 37, and LaMarcus Aldridge is tied for eighth with 33. Hickson had 19 points and 18 rebounds in Portland in a losing effort to the Hawks on Nov. 12. The Trail Blazers have a four-game losing streak in Atlanta.