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Johnson lifts Hawks to fifth straight win

POSTED: March 16, 2009 12:06 a.m.
ATLANTA — As long as the Atlanta Hawks keep winning, Joe Johnson won’t stop shooting.

Johnson scored 35 points, Josh Smith had 19 points and eight rebounds, and the Hawks beat the Portland Trail Blazers 98-80 on Sunday for their fifth consecutive victory.

“It all feels great to come out and put on a good performance, a string of good performances in games we’re winning,” Johnson said. “That makes it even better, man. I’m just trying to be aggressive and make plays.”

Brandon Roy finished with 29 points for the Blazers, who have lost two of three. Portland dropped a half-game behind Denver for the Northwest Division lead and fell out of a three-way tie with the Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets for fourth place in the Western Conference.

“The Hawks played like the more aggressive team and like they wanted it more,” Roy said. “Their movement was better on offense, pushing the ball and getting to the rim. We didn’t do anything to try to slow that down. When you let a team run that free at home, you don’t stand a chance.”

Johnson, who scored 15 points in the third quarter, shot 15-for-27 from the field in his fourth straight 30-point game. He handed out six assists, but missed all four of his 3-point attempts.

“We know what Joe is capable of,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “He made some tough shots in isolation today. You have to bring energy and more scrap when you play on the road. We have to play with more energy than we did.”

Atlanta improved to 25-7 at home. The Blazers have lost seven of eight on the road.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 13 of his 19 points in the third for Portland, which had won three straight and 12 of 13 against Atlanta.

Roy hit seven straight shots from the beginning of the second quarter until he missed a layup that led to Aldridge’s turnover late in the third. The Hawks then began to pull away, with Al Horford’s three-point play with 9:44 left in the period giving them their first double-digit lead at 50-39.

“You can’t be down on the road and make a comeback,” Roy said. “It’s just too tough. Today we didn’t really get off to too bad a start. We were only down three at halftime, but even then we weren’t playing well. It was kind of a slow game.”

Smith, who was sluggish through much of the first half, drove past Aldridge and Nicolas Batum for a hard dunk from the left baseline late in the third to give the Hawks an eight-point lead. His aggressive move brought the entire Atlanta bench to its feet and energized the crowd at Philips Arena.

“It’s extremely fun because of the fact that we’re playing very unselfish,” Smith said. “We’re playing very unselfish and very good defense as a team. We were definitely outsized today, but that just shows you our resiliency and that we’re not backing down.”

Hawks coach Mike Woodson, who played on a national championship team under Bobby Knight at Indiana and worked as an assistant to help Larry Brown lead Detroit to the 2004 NBA title, is always preaching defense first.

He hopes his players keep listening, particularly considering that Atlanta is now 33-9 when holding opponents under 100 points.

“If they hadn’t realized it’s the defense and rebounding that’s been doing that, then we’re fooling ourselves,” Woodson said.
“Because that’s the only way I think you win in this league is to defend and rebound and share it offensively, and these last five games we’ve done that.”

Notes: Blazers rookie G Rudy Fernandez returned after missing two games with chest and hip injuries. Hospitalized after a foul by the Lakers’ Trevor Ariza last Monday, Fernandez went scoreless in 18 minutes. ... The Hawks improved to 12-1 with G Mo Evans in the starting lineup. ... Woodson, who improved to 2-8 against Portland, had no update before the game on the status of F Marvin Williams. After sustaining a severe lower back injury in a March 7 win over Detroit, Williams has missed four straight games.


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