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Hornets challenge Hawks for top spot in the Eastern Conference

Can the Hornets continue their efficient play and knock off the top team in the conference?

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Charlotte Hornets vs Atlanta Hawks

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Spectrum Center

TV: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

The Hornets early success has been due to their taking a page out of the Hawks personnel playbook.

Atlanta, like Charlotte, is not a team with a star (though Kemba Walker looks to be in the process of warping that perception for good). In a conference dominated by a team with the star of stars other teams have had to get creative with their roster — putting together complimentary players in specified roles and promptly crossing their fingers in the hopes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Pair that with a top coach and you have yourself Eastern Conference contention.

This marks Charlotte’s first real stab at making a similar kind of noise. But to do so, they will have to go through Atlanta, a team that despite a massive makeover this offseason, looks to have not missed a beat. Even with homecoming hero Dwight Howard out with a quad contusion (seriously?) the team is streaking with Mike “Muskie” Muscala picking up the slack. The team could see the return of Howard against the Hornets, in which case perhaps we see Cliff go with some extended minutes for Roy Hibbert.

Kemba has been on an insane run of late, averaging more than 25 points per game and shooting nearly 50 percent from the field while doing it. And while it’s been awesome to watch, the team will it’s balanced core to give the man a rest in order to deal with the versatile defenders at almost all positions Atlanta can run at you. The bench will be without Jeremy Lamb once more, meaning Frank and company will need to carry over strong performances from Minnesota. With close losses to both Toronto and Cleveland behind them, this will be a good opportunity for Charlotte to show that they are in fact a top four team in the conference, and that this hot start is much more than a fluke.