116 - 99 Final
  for this game

Smith, Hawks move closer to playoff spot

Apr 1, 2008 - 3:55 AM By Shawn Pachucki PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Josh Smith collected 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists as the Atlanta Hawks moved one step closer to their first playoff berth in nine seasons with a dominating 116-99 victory over the hopeless Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.

Joe Johnson and rookie Al Horford scored 19 points apiece for the Hawks (34-40), who increased their lead for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot to three games over the New Jersey Nets (31-43) and Indiana Pacers (31-43) with eight left to play.

"We're growing together right now, every game we play, and these are important wins," Johnson said. "We've been playing for the postseason all year. We needed to come out and play hard like we did and win."

Mike Bibby had 17 points and seven assists for Atlanta, which shot a sizzling 56 percent (43-of-77) from the field, including 10-of-22 from the arc.

"We did what we wanted to," Bibby said. "We jumped out there early. That was our plan, just to try and get over them early. All games are important to us now, so right now we have to just keep it going."

Winners of four straight and eight of their last 10 games, the Hawks' only struggles recently have come on the road. Both losses during the stretch were away from Philips Arena.

A fast-paced attack helped the Hawks seize control early, while the Grizzlies faltered on offense and rarely recovered on defense.

The Hawks posted a 40-point opening quarter and opened a 73-46 lead heading to the break. Atlanta's first-half point total was the most ever by a Memphis opponent.

Shooting nearly 70 percent for most of the game, the Hawks were able to top the 100-point plateau with more than two minutes to play in the third quarter.

"We got it going on both ends," Horford said. "I think it was about everyone knowing it was a big game for us. Every game we play from now on means something."

Rudy Gay caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 points during a 23-4 spurt which trimmed a 31-point deficit to 107-95 with 5:59 left.

Atlanta put the breaks on the run with a three-point play by Smith and a driving layup by Josh Childress to push the lead back to 17 points with 2:32 remaining.

The Hawks kept the game firmly in hand the rest of the way, ensuring a pleasant trip back to Atlanta where they'll take on two fellow postseason contenders - Toronto and Philadelphia - this week.

"This has been a four-year process as far as I'm concerned from a coaching standpoint," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "This year has been a turning point for our guys and their growth. It's nice to see them come together, but we still have to take it one game at a time."

Gay scored 29 points for the Grizzlies, who shot 54 percent (41-of-76) from the field but gave up 30 points off of 16 turnovers and missed 10-of-19 free throws.

"It's tough to see our team get down like we did and have to fight so hard to get back," Gay said. "They came out here with the mindset to move the ball and get everyone involved. Everyone came up big."

Monday's loss prevented the first winning month at home since April, 2005, for Memphis, which has lost four of their last five games and dropped four in a row to the Hawks.

"It was a difficult game for us. You get down 38 points and you just don't know what hit you," Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni said. "Basically, it was a bunch of talented athletes who outplayed us, outworked us, out-toughed us and outshot us."

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    lpickrell Added 5 roots

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    Againigan Added 5 roots

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