Al Horford, the Hawks' normally stoic center, had some passionate outbursts the past two times the Hawks played New York.

Horford said it's no coincidence they've happened against the Knicks, who will play their final regular-season game against the Hawks on Sunday at Philips Arena.

"It's emotional," Horford said. "It's one of those teams that potentially you could see in the playoffs. There are some games that fire you up more than others. I'm usually fired up, but I love playing New York.

"Ever since I've got here in the league, Madison Square Garden, the Knicks -- it's a big deal. I'm always excited."

The stakes have been raised for Horford and the Hawks because of recent circumstances. Not only are the Knicks chasing the Hawks for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but their past two games have been marked by a fight, rough play and verbal jabs.

Hawks forward Marvin Williams and New York's Shawne Williams came to blows during the Hawks' 111-102 home victory Jan. 28. Horford pounded his chest to fire up fans in that game, prompting Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire to tell reporters Horford "doesn't want to see me."

Stoudemire made similar comments before New York's 102-90 victory Feb. 16 at Madison Square Garden. Horford had some demonstrative moments after scoring baskets in that game and had words with guard Raymond Felton (who has since been traded from New York to Denver).

At the All-Star game, where both Horford and Stoudemire played for the East team, Horford said Stoudemire's barbs were "just talk" and that the matter was settled. Asked if that's still the case, Horford was terse: "Yeah."

Hawks coach Larry Drew said Horford has been more outspoken in his fourth NBA season. He noted how Horford encouraged his teammates as he led the Hawks' comeback from a 19-point deficit to defeat Chicago 83-80 on Wednesday.