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Hawks win fifth in a row

POSTED: January 7, 2008 5:02 a.m.

ATLANTA — Atlanta has been an easy target for visiting teams as it built the NBA’s longest current streak of non-playoff seasons.

No more.

The Hawks suddenly are winning at home, and such visiting teams as the Indiana Pacers can’t help but notice.

Joe Johnson scored 26 points to lead six scorers in double figures and the Hawks beat the Pacers 107-95 on Wednesday night for their first five-game winning streak in eight years.

The Hawks have won six of their last seven home games to move to 10-6 in Atlanta. Among Eastern Conference teams, only Boston and Detroit have more home victories.

"Teams are starting to realize it’s not just a walk in the park to come to Atlanta and play in Philips Arena," said Josh Smith, who scored 11 of his 16 points in the final quarter as the Hawks turned back the Pacers’ comeback attempts.

At 15-12, the Hawks are three games over .500 this late in the season for the first time since the 1998-99 season, the last time they made the playoffs.

The Hawks’ last five-game winning streak came early the following season, from Nov. 27-Dec. 8 in 1999.

The Hawks broke a 70-all tie with 12 straight points to take the lead for good.

The streak covered the last 2 minutes of the third quarter and continued with back-to-back baskets by Josh Childress for an 82-70 lead in the final quarter.

Troy Murphy, who led Indiana with 19 points, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to help the Pacers cut it to 84-81, and another 3 by Danny Granger again made it a three-point game at 89-86.

Anthony Johnson answered with a 3 as the Hawks scored seven straight points for a 96-86 lead, forcing the Pacers to call a timeout with 3:48 left.

Jamaal Tinsley scored on a one-on-three drive to the basket to cut the lead to 96-92.

Smith answered with a three-point play for Atlanta, and his 3-point shot with 37 seconds left put away the game.

Indiana had won four of five before but couldn’t answer Atlanta’s depth.

Shelden Williams had 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench as the Hawks outrebounded the Pacers 48-37.

"They create tough matchups for us," said Indiana coach Jim O’Brien. "Josh Smith, playing one of the big spots, is tougher for our guys because he’s so athletic. Joe Johnson is always a tough guy to guard for anybody."

Marvin Williams had 14 points, Anthony Johnson had 13, and Al Horford had 12 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.

Jermaine O’Neal had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana. Tinsley had 16 points and 12 assists.

"We were just fighting too hard, overdoing," Tinsley said. "But, you know, you’ve got to give them credit."

The Hawks have slowly improved from 13-69 in 2004-05 to 30-52 last season. The Hawks were still a last-place team last season, but O’Brien says the league still saw the Hawks as a team on the move.

"I think everybody kind of saw it coming the last couple years," O’Brien said. "They’re building some very good talent and I think they’re playing a very cohesive type of basketball. They seem to be playing, at both ends, a very team-oriented basketball game."

Joe Johnson also led Atlanta with 11 assists, but he was more impressed with his team’s defense.

"To win five games in a row you have to be doing something pretty good, and I think our defense is doing that for us," Johnson said.

Johnson said increased respect around the league isn’t the main goal.

"We’re not worried about that," he said. "Our main goal right now is to make the playoffs. Right now we’re on a pretty good pace. We have to remember what got us there. That’s defense."

Smith, limited by foul trouble, had only five points and three rebounds through three quarters before playing a lead role in the final 8 minutes. Smith, Anthony Johnson and Williams entered the game with 7:53 left, after Murphy’s two 3-pointers cut the lead to 84-81.

Indiana, making its only visit of the season to Atlanta, closed the first quarter with a 9-0 run for a 25-23 lead. A 3-pointer by Kareem Rush helped the Pacers stretch the lead to 32-25.



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