There was a common and predictable theme to the Hawks' locker room talking points following the team's second straight home win against a team with a winning record.

"We just kept sticking with our defense," Mike Scott said.

"Once we got our defense under wraps, got some stops, we could run," said Elton Brand.

Defense. Defense. Defense. There were compliments for help defense and individual defense and all sorts of points-preventing efforts against one of the league's most efficiency offensive forces. Houston, a team that was averaging 109.6 points per 100 possessions entering the game, was held to 41.4 percent shooting, not to mention logging more turnovers than assists.

"The competitiveness that they're putting out there, it starts on the defensive end of the court. There's some examples tonight of guys making rotations, making 'V-backs' -- difficult, hard situations -- guys making rotations," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "It's just good seeing that trust being built up. If we continue to do that, there's stretches where our offense, we can play off our defense."

With the win, the Hawks' place in the awful Eastern Conference remains firm at No. 3. However, they also improved to .500 against Western Conference teams, 20-17 overall. The roster is not at full strength -- and will not be for the rest of the season -- but if this trend holds and this Hawks roster stays at or near third place in the East, expect Budenholzer to earn more than his fair share of Coach of the Year votes.