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Hawks hope to avoid letdown after Game 1 win
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ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks are keeping things nice and loose, and rookie Jeff Teague is a convenient target for their antics.

After Teague put up career highs in points and assists in a meaningless game against Cleveland to close the regular season, the veterans decided to remind the guy everyone calls "rook" of the locker room pecking order. Someone — Teague is sure Josh Smith was the culprit — filled the youngster's luxury car with popcorn all the way up to the dashboard.

"It's been this way all season long," Smith said, who showed off pictures of Teague's car being "popcorned" but denied any culpability in the prank (wink, wink). "That's what it takes. You really don't want to get too serious. When it gets serious, that's usually when things are going wrong with a team."

The Hawks were sure feeling good about themselves Sunday, one day after a dominating first half carried them to a 102-92 win over Milwaukee in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference series.

But this team knows one game does not make a series, even when the Hawks appear to have some major advantages in the matchups thanks to a gruesome injury that ensures Bucks center Andrew Bogut will watch the rest of this season from the bench, his right arm encased in some sort of Frankenstein-looking contraption.

A year ago, Atlanta began the playoffs with a 90-64 blowout of the Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. The underdogs came back three days later for a stunning 15-point road win, and the series dragged on the full seven game before the Hawks finally put it away. Battered and beaten, Atlanta was a pushover in the second round, losing in four straight to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"I'd like to think our team, being a year older, we know what's at stake and hopefully we'll rebound from what we did last year," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "I'm going to stress that. It's important that you handle your business at home."

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Atlanta, before the best-of-seven series shifts to Milwaukee for the next two contests.

Appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Bucks sure looked like postseason rookies at the start of the series opener. The Hawks raced to a 20-point lead before the first quarter was in the books. They stretched it to 62-40 by halftime, befuddling the Bucks with nearly perfect execution.

Much of the game plan centered on Milwaukee's vulnerability on the inside without the 7-foot Bogut.

Kurt Thomas, 6-9 and a natural forward, was overmatched by Hawks center Al Horford. The Bucks used their next-tallest player, 6-8 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, on Hawks guard and leading scorer Joe Johnson, but that left Milwaukee with huge problems at the other spots. Carlos Delfino tried to defend Smith, 3 inches taller and a much stronger player. John Salmons gave up 3 inches to Marvin Williams.

"It's simple," Woodson said. "In playoff basketball, you try to exploit matchups. We tried to take advantage of Al and (Smith) on the inside early on. I thought that was to our advantage."

In the first half, Atlanta shot 62 percent (26 of 42) and outscored the Bucks 34-14 in the lane. Horford scored 13 points of 6-of-7 shooting. Smith knocked down 5 of 8 shots and probably should've had more, spinning out a couple of attempts from in close.

When Milwaukee tried to give help on the inside, the Hawks would whip the ball around the perimeter until they found the open man. Mike Bibby hit a pair of 3-pointers. So did Jamal Crawford.

"We had several guys off the ball defensively that just weren't as active as we normally are, and that had an effect on us," Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said Sunday after a film session at the team hotel. "We looked at it. The guys could see it themselves."

The Bucks also struggled at the offensive end in the first half. Brandon Jennings felt as though he had to do it all himself, and pretty much did. He had 20 points by halftime, but no one else scored more than four. The most telling stat at that point: Milwaukee had seven turnovers and just two assists.

"By losing Andrew, our offense is a little more predictable," Delfino said. "At this level, to come back from that 20-point deficit is not easy at all."

Skiles expects his team to play more like it did over the final two quarters, when it outscored the Hawks 52-40 and actually had a couple of chances to cut the deficit to five points in the closing minutes. Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova both missed 3-pointers, Johnson hit a big shot and the Hawks held on.

"They were over 60 percent at halftime, and then in the third quarter they shot 39 percent," Skiles said. "They didn't all of a sudden turn into a different team. We had a little something to do with that."

Mindful of last season, the Hawks aren't looking ahead. But they do have bigger goals than just winning a playoff series.
Every player's locker is adorned with a picture of the trophy that is awarded to the NBA champion.

"We've got a special group when we're hitting on all cylinders," said Johnson, who led the Hawks with 22 points in Game 1. "Now is the time for us to really pick up the pace and just show the world what we can do."
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