for this game

Johnson leads Hawks to season-opening win over Mavericks

Nov 3, 2007 - 3:57 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- The Atlanta Hawks accomplished something for the first time since Joe Johnson was a senior in high school and Josh Smith was in middle school - winning their opening game.

Johnson scored 28 points and Smith added 18 and 11 rebounds to power the Hawks to a 101-94 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in their home opener on Friday.

The Hawks have struggled this side of the millennium, not making the playoffs since the end of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign - the longest streak of futility in the NBA.

But buoyed by a strong draft, in which the club nabbed forward Al Horford and point guard Acie Law IV, Atlanta posted the league's best preseason record at 7-1 - its best mark since the 1983 preseason.

"They've been hungry to get out on the floor and play," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "We've had seven or eight days off, coming into this game. It seemed like everything we worked on in camp, it kind of rolled over to our game tonight. It was really nice to see."

"I think a lot of people take preseason for granted," Johnson said. "We developed a good chemistry during the preseason and you could see tonight, it carried over to the game."

The beleaguered Atlanta club, which had not won a season opener since the last time the squad made the playoffs, entered with a tough assignment in its opener. The Hawks faced the Mavericks, who posted the NBA's sixth-best all-time record at 67-15 last season.

Atlanta, which trailed by one point entering the fourth, outscored Dallas by eight in the final period to secure the victory.

"It was great to win this game," said the 26-year-old Johnson, who was 18 when the Hawks last won their opener by defeating the Cavaliers, 100-83, on February 5, 1999. "Down the stretch, we executed and got stops. That's a sign of maturity."

For a while it looked like the Hawks might not prevail in this one, squandering a 16-point second-quarter lead.

But after Dirk Nowitzki tied the game at 90-90 with a driving layup with 2:34 remaining, the young Hawks - with one more year of experience under their belt - actually may have learned how to put a game away.

"Our team is growing up now," Woodson said. "That's the difference. These guys are third- and fourth-year guys, and they're starting to figure out what it's all about."

"The Hawks made hustle plays all night," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "They really played hard and wanted this game."

Johnson answered with a layup with 2:09 remaining to give the Hawks the lead for good. And after 2006 first-round pick Shelden Williams grabbed a crucial defensive rebound, Tyronn Lue hit the first of two free throws to give Atlanta a 93-90 edge.

A 10-year veteran, Lue scored 14 points but missed on the second free throw, setting up the high-flying Smith's impressive rebound. Third-year standout Marvin Williams then penetrated for a layup with 41.7 seconds remaining to put the game away.

"(The rebound by Smith) was huge there," said Williams, who netted 16 points. "The dude's all over the place. I think we've all grown up."

"We played really well down the stretch," Johnson said. "They missed a few shots, and we were able to secure the ball, come down and create offense."

The Hawks started the game strong, shooting 52 percent from the field in the first quarter to build a 29-19 advantage. Horford set the tone for the Hawks, scoring six of his nine points and grabbing six rebounds in the opening period.

Johnson launched a 3-pointer to give the Hawks a 39-23 lead with 7:39 remaining in the second before Nowitzki and the Mavericks fought back. The reigning MVP scored seven of his nine first-half points in a 16-7 run to cut the Hawks' advantage to 46-39 at halftime.

After Horford opened the second half with two free throws to give the Hawks a nine-point lead, Dallas embarked on a 16-8 run to give the Mavericks a 57-56 lead on Nowitzki's 3-pointer with 6:58 remaining in the third.

Dallas played the second half without starting guard Devin Harris, who left the game with a left thigh contusion after colliding with Smith with 3:35 remaining in the first half.

Juwan Howard did not score in seven minutes in his debut for the Mavericks, who snapped a four-game winning streak against the Hawks.

"The Hawks got off to a good start," former Hawk Jason Terry said. "Give Atlanta a lot of credit. They came out and out played us on both ends of the floor tonight, and that's why they won the game."

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