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The team announced Thursday that Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in the first quarter of Wednesday night's game at Indiana. The injury will likely require surgery, stunning a team that has made the playoffs four years in a row and is off to a solid start with wins over Miami and Chicago in the early going.
Horford, a two-time All-Star, could be out as long as four months, which would take his rehab deep into the playoffs ' should the Hawks make it that far. He will get a second opinion before making the final decision to undergo surgery, but even the most optimistic projection would keep him out until mid-April.
The Hawks final regular-season game is April 26.
"We are very disappointed for Al and our team and we wish him the best as he moves forward in the rehabilitation process," Hawks general manager Rick Sund said in a statement. "He has contributed greatly to our success since his arrival in Atlanta, and that's evident by his selection to the NBA's All-League team last season" as a third-team pick.
Horford was injured with 6:08 remaining in the first quarter of Wednesday's game. He was averaging 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks to go along with the NBA's eighth-best shooting percentage (.553).
The 25-year-old is a bit undersized for the center position (6-foot-10, 245 pounds) but he quickly emerged as perhaps the most valuable Atlanta player after being picked third overall in the 2007 draft. His loss leaves the Hawks with a huge hole on the inside, plus some much-needed leadership in the locker room. Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins are the other centers on the roster, neither of whom is likely to come close to matching Horford's production.
Horford did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. The banged-up Hawks ' Marvin Williams and Tracy McGrady didn't dress for the Indiana game ' returned home to host Charlotte on Thursday night.