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Charlotte Dwight Howard homecoming against the Hawks (4.0 Sports)

By:Brad Rowland

For the ninth time in ten games, the Atlanta Hawks took the floor at Philips Arena on Wednesday night and they did so in a winnable spot against Dwight Howard, Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets. However, only one end of the floor lived up to the challenge for the hosts, as the Hawks struggled defensively throughout the evening on the way to a 123-110 defeat.

The first quarter had its challenges for the Hawks, especially on the defensive end. The visiting Hornets used an 11-2 run to claim a ten-point lead that they managed to hold for most of the period and, after 12 minutes, Charlotte boasted an offensive rating of 152.0 (yikes) to send Atlanta to a 35-28 deficit.

While the defensive execution wasn’t ideal, there were some story lines to monitor in the first quarter and the first was a tribute video for Dwight Howard in his return to Atlanta.

Our friends at DimeMag provided the reaction that, well, most people had.

In Howard’s return, he did not receive much of a reaction when introduced as a starter for the Hornets and this particular tribute video did not generate much buzz in the building. Many have noted that he spent less than a calendar year with the organization. We also note that.

At any rate, Hawks rookie John Collins did provide two highlight plays in the first quarter and they both came in the form of dunks.

No. 1 was quite impressive.

Following the madness that was Collins even catching that particular lob pass, the Hawks settled in a bit during the second quarter. Back-to-back threes from Mike Muscala and Kent Bazemore slashed Charlotte’s lead to three and that looked to provide a window of optimism moving forward. On cue, though, the Hornets (with the help of technical fouls from Bazemore and Mike Budenholzer) stretched the deficit back to 15 points at 60-45 and, while the defense was improved, it was only a (very) marginal uptick.

The Hawks did respond to finish the half, closing within a 64-52 score. Still, the Hornets shot 53 percent from the floor and 58 percent from three prior to the break and, by any estimation, that is not strong enough on the defensive end to sustain success.

Fortunately, Atlanta did turn it up early in the third quarter and the bounce-back was led by Bazemore. The veteran swingman scored 11 points in the first 4:30 of the period and, in conjunction with more defensive resistance, the Hawks were able to climb within one point at 77-76.

From there, though, the Hornets would finish the quarter strong, with Kemba Walker doing Kemba Walker things as Charlotte pushed their lead to 97-84. Walker scored 18 points in the quarter and, in short, did his best to push the home team out of an overly competitive situation.

The Hawks managed to keep the margin somewhat respectable for most of the fourth quarter but at no point did it feel as if a run was coming for Atlanta and it never arrived. The end result was a 13-point defeat and, while the offense performed well in the grand scheme, the defense flopped in a significant way.

Kent Bazemore (25 points on 8 of 11 shooting) and Marco Belinelli (22 points including 4 of 7 from three) posted explosive offensive production for the Hawks, with John Collins adding an efficient 12 points on six field goal attempts.

The Hawks will be back in action on Friday, as the team ventures away from Philips Arena to Boston to face off with Al Horford and the Celtics. Stay tuned.