1114PRAYERAUDHear the Rev. Dr. Marcus Dixon of St. Paul United Methodist Church pray for rain.
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks’ last playoff season began with their last season-opening win.
It’s no wonder Joe Johnson and the Hawks placed so much emphasis on their 101-94 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.
Atlanta opened with a win for the first time since the 1998-99 season, and the Hawks believe a strong start is needed to end their eight-year playoff drought, the longest active streak in the NBA.
Johnson scored 28 points to offset a 28-point effort by Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, and the Hawks outscored the Mavericks 11-4 in the final 3 minutes to take the win.
Dallas recovered from an early 16-point deficit to lead 69-68 entering the final quarter. Normally for the Hawks in recent years, that has been a signal to collapse.
This time, the Hawks outscored the Mavericks 33-25 in the final period.
Hawks coach Mike Woodson said the fourth-quarter performance, following a 7-1 preseason, is a sign of maturity.
"Our team is growing up," Woodson said. "That’s the difference. These guys are three- and four-year guys. They’re starting to figure out what the league is all about."
Johnson is beginning his seventh season, but the other leaders include such recent first-round picks as Josh Smith, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Marvin Williams, who added 16 points.
Rookies Al Horford (nine points and 10 rebounds) and Acie Law (eight points in 14 minutes) also showed promise. Horford had three dunks and six rebounds in the opening period.
"If they can find that effort night in night out, they’re a playoff team," said Dallas forward Jerry Stackhouse.
Added Mavericks coach Avery Johnson: "They made basically all the hustle plays all night. They got all of the loose balls. They really wanted this game."
Johnson put the game away with a jumper with 11 seconds left that made it 97-92.
Jason Terry had 20 points for Dallas and Jose Barea added 14.
Nowitzki scored 11 points in the third quarter when Dallas took its first lead since the opening minute.
The Hawks were without their two most experienced inside players, Zaza Pachulia (left knee) and Lorenzen Wright (foot).
When Horford sat down with four fouls less than 4 minutes into the second half, Nowitzki took advantage of a matchup with Shelden Williams to score nine of the Mavericks’ next 11 points.
The 6-foot-7 Johnson eventually shifted to defend the 7-foot Nowitzki, cutting off the Mavericks’ momentum.
"I like taking a challenge guarding the team’s best player," Johnson said. "I just wanted to stay in front of him and make him take tough shots."
Law drove past Devin Harris with 6:22 left in the first half to give Atlanta its biggest lead, 41-25. The Hawks didn’t have another field goal the rest of the half as Dallas cut the lead to 46-39.
A 3-pointer by Nowitzki gave Dallas its first lead, 57-56 with 6:30 left in the third quarter, but the Hawks responded.
"They can jump, they can run with the best in the league," Nowitzki said.
Harris scored the first 10 points for Dallas but scored only one more before bruising his left thigh late in the second quarter. He did not play in the second half.
The Mavericks reported Harris’ status as day-to-day.
"My thigh is pretty sore so we will see how it responds tomorrow," Harris said.
Dallas plays Sacramento on Saturday, but Harris said he hopes to play Monday against Houston.
Dallas’ Josh Howard served the second game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with Sacramento center Brad Miller in a preseason game. Howard will return Saturday for a rematch with the Kings.
Notes: F Juwan Howard made his season debut with Dallas late in the first quarter. He joined the team Tuesday. He did not score in 7 minutes. ... Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, also of "Dancing with the Stars" fame, declined an invitation to join mascot Harry the Hawk in a dance routine during a timeout. ... Pachulia began running Friday as he recovers from a sprained left knee.