ATLANTA -- The Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference standings, and home-court advantage for a possible playoff series could loom large.
That means that Friday night's game in Atlanta carries plenty of significance, even though the playoffs are still more than a month away.
It is the last time the Raptors and Hawks play this season -- they split their two earlier games in Toronto. If the teams end up with the same record, Friday's winner would have the extra home game in the playoffs.
Toronto (38-26) hopes to move up in the standings despite the loss of standout guard Kyle Lowry to wrist surgery. The Raptors have fared better than the Hawks (35-29) recently.
Atlanta snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Brooklyn 110-105 on Wednesday, but the Hawks have won just three of their past nine. Toronto, which won 94-87 at New Orleans on Wednesday, is 5-2 since losing Lowry.
Atlanta is actually closer to sixth in the Eastern Conference than fourth. The Hawks trail the Raptors by three games and are just two ahead of sixth-place Indiana.
With 18 games to go, the Hawks' season has been a rollercoaster.
Dennis Schroder, though, may have them headed up again after a bounce-back game following his benching for most of the second half against Golden State because of an argument with center Dwight Howard and then some more words with coach Mike Budenholzer.
Schroder met with Budenholzer on Wednesday morning following a long phone conversation with Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap the previous night. He then scored 31 points against the Nets.
"We are brothers. We go to war every night," said Millsap, who had 24 points in the win over Brooklyn. "I'm there for him always. He knows that. When he calls, I answer. When I call, he answers. We had a good talk. I'm glad he's receptive to what was said and came and busted his butt."
Schroder, playing with an edge but keeping his cool, had a key late steal against the Nets and then finished off a 10-for-10 game at the foul line to clinch the victory.
"He didn't let what happened the last game get to him," Millsap said. "He came out with a good attitude and helped us win. I see a lot of maturity and a lot of growth in that."
Millsap is the Hawks' best player and team leader right now. Schroder, a 23-year-old first-year starting point guard, could be a leader in the future.
"I just tried to do a better job talking to them," Schroder said of controlling his emotions with teammates. "Just pick the points when I'm talking to them."
The previous Raptors-Hawks games this season were during December in Toronto, with the Raptors rolling to a 128-84 rout before the Hawks came back to win 125-121 two weeks later behind 27 points and 18 rebounds from Howard.
Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas hopes to fare better this time after a big game in New Orleans matched against All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
Valanciunas had 25 points and 13 rebounds against the Pelicans, who were without Davis in the second half after an injury.
"I was ready. I'm ready every night," Valanciunas said after the game. "I'm waiting for that chance. Give me a chance and I'm going to fight hard."
The point total was the best for Valanciunas since he scored 32 against Detroit in the season opener, but he didn't stand out on just the offensive end.
"This was one of Jonas' better defensive games against the pick-and-roll," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.