Hawks rout Nuggets, hit 20-win plateauDec 30, 2008 - 4:32 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks ended their season-long, eight-game homestand with a nice win over a quality opponent. They also rewrote their own record book along the way.
Johnson poured in 25 points and Mike Bibby added 20 and nine assists, leading the Hawks to a convincing 109-91 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
Al Horford recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds and reserve Ronald Murray added 13 points for Atlanta (20-10), which finished its homestand at 7-1 and hit the 20-win plateau in December for the first time since the 1987-88 campaign.
"We've come a long way as a basketball team," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said of his club, which finished 13-69 in his first season as head coach in 2004-05. "Those guys are happy. You have to give these guys credit. That's what it's all about."
Atlanta separated itself from Denver with a 9-1 spurt midway through the third period before putting away the game in the fourth.
The Nuggets clung to a 66-65 on two free throws by Carmelo Anthony with 6:30 remaining in the frame before Marvin Williams put Atlanta up for good with a pair of free throws 13 seconds later.
Bibby extended the lead to 72-67 with a long 3-pointer before reserve Zaza Pachulia capped the run with a layup with 3:05 remaining.
Atlanta broke open the game in the fourth, leading by as many as 21 on a pair of free throws by Williams with 2:03 remaining.
"The third and fourth quarters were huge for us," Woodson said. "To hold (Denver) to 38 points in the second half was huge for our team."
Atlanta, which has won 14 of 16 at home this season, lost just once here during their recently completed homestand - falling by three against the reigning world champion Boston Celtics.
However, the Hawks defeated some of the NBA's elite during the stretch, ending the Cleveland Cavaliers' 11-game winning streak and posting wins against Detroit and Denver.
As a result, they will enter January with at least 20 wins for the first time in 21 years.
"It definitely feels good to be coming out of this homestand, 7-1 and 20-10," Atlanta forward Josh Smith said. "We just have to try to continue the momentum at home to the road.
"Being able to win game like this, it feels so good for me. It shows the maturity and the growth of the team. I've been through the ups and downs and I'm glad to be able to experience the time on the up side."
But Johnson and the Hawks know that they have more work to do.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Johnson said. "We have a long season ahead of us. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We want to take it one game at a time."
To put things in perspective, things were markedly different the last time Atlanta piled up 20 wins in a season before the calendar flipped.
Ronald Reagan was a lame-duck President, Dominique Wilkins and Doc Rivers patrolled the floor of the Omni in Atlanta's "Pacman" uniforms and Woodson was a swingman for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Hawks entered 1988 with a 20-7 record en route to notching a 50-32 mark before losing an epic Game Seven battle to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Fifty-win seasons were a regular occurrence for those Hawks teams but have been elusive since Atlanta finished with an identical 50-32 mark 11 years ago. Woodson hopes the Hawks can return to their former glory this season.
"We never really talked about where we should be (at this point of the season)," Woodson said. "The only thing we talked about was winning 50 games. That's the goal for our basketball team. That's 13 games off of our pace from last year. It's not unrealistic."
If Atlanta's recently completed homestand is indicative of the club's future success, the Hawks may be on track.
"I was just saying that it was shocking that it was 21 years before this team had 20 wins before January," said Horford, who was a one-year old the last time the Hawks achieved that kind of early success on the court.
"If we get to 50 wins, that will be a great accomplishment for this team."
One night after tweaking his elbow injury in New York, Anthony had a miserable night for the Nuggets, finishing with 16 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field.
"Atlanta does a good job by switching, and they made Carmelo see a lot of different bodies," Denver coach George Karl said. "That disrupted him tonight."
Kenyon Martin added 19 points and Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith added 11 each for Denver, which failed to secure Karl's 900th coaching victory.
"(Atlanta) made a lot more plays than we did," Martin said. "The Hawks just played well tonight, so we can't make any excuses for this loss."
ATLANTA 109 FINAL
Dec 29 9:24 PM
ATLANTA 78 END, 3RD QTR
Dec 29 8:50 PM
ATLANTA 54 HALFTIME
Dec 29 8:07 PM
ATLANTA 29 END, 1ST QTR
Dec 29 7:38 PM
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