CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When the Charlotte Bobcats waived Jeff McInnis last week they sent a clear message to Raymond Felton: prove you can lead the team at point guard.
The early results are better than the Bobcats could have hoped.
Showing his range, finishing around the basket and directing a crisp offense, Felton has led Charlotte on a surprising four-game winning streak. The latest victory came Friday night, when Felton had 23 points and 11 assists as the Bobcats downed the slumping Atlanta Hawks 108-93.
"I just think that lately Ray has been playing very confident with all aspects of his game," said Matt Carroll, who added 21 points. "He’s playing aggressive and kind of taken some leadership, really stepping up his leadership role lately."
It was the role the Bobcats had hoped for when they took the former North Carolina star with the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft. But Felton has been overshadowed in his draft class by Chris Paul of New Orleans and plagued by inconsistency.
Felton was also constantly shuttling between point guard and shooting guard. Brevin Knight split time with him at point guard last year and it was McInnis this year.
In the five games since McInnis was jettisoned, Felton has scored 20 or more points three times, has 45 assists and 13 turnovers and the Bobcats have surpassed 100 points each time.
"I’m just running the team. I’m trying to show everybody that I’m a leader," Felton said.
On Friday he helped the fourth-year Bobcats match a team-record for longest winning streak and sent the Hawks to another damaging loss as they fight for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Joe Johnson scored 20 points and Al Horford added 18 points and 11 rebounds for Atlanta, which had an opportunity to win three games in two days against two of the worst teams in the East.
Instead, the Hawks enter Saturday’s replay against Miami a season-worst 12 games under .500.
"We’re just not defending," coach Mike Woodson said. "Until we realize that it’s going to be a struggle to win games."
Meanwhile, the Bobcats have thrived since changing their lineup and focusing on young players following 12 losses in 13 games.
Carroll, buried on the bench early in the season, made 5-of-6 3-pointers in another start in place of Gerald Wallace (concussion).
Rookie Jared Dudley, getting more playing time, had 13 points and eight rebounds. It allowed Jason Richardson, coming off a 42-point game against Golden State, to have a quiet 13-point night.
Emeka Okafor had 16 points and 15 rebounds for Charlotte, which plays 10 of its next 11 on the road.
"Everybody is just playing unselfish and stepping up," Carroll said. "I feel like everyone just knows their roles right now and are playing confident, too."
The Hawks, who had allowed 135 and 116 points in their last two games, surrendered only 16 points in the first quarter, then melted down defensively again in blowing an early 10-point lead.
Felton scored 15 points in the second quarter, then Carroll got hot in the third. The Bobcats built the lead to 78-69 on Carroll’s 3 at the third-quarter buzzer. He hit another 3 and a long jumper early in the fourth quarter to give Charlotte an 83-72 lead.
The Hawks never recovered, losing their fourth straight game and dropping to 3-8 since Mike Bibby joined the team following a trade with Sacramento.
Bibby had 11 points and 10 assists, but the Hawks shot 44 percent.
"I think (Felton) kind of got hot," said Hawks forward Marvin Williams, who had 17 points. "When he got hot that’s when everything got started for them.
"He starts demanding a lot of attention because he’s a great passer."Notes: Hawks G Acie Law missed his sixth straight game with a sprained right wrist, but Woodson was hopeful he’d be available today. ... The Bobcats improved to 11-5 against the Hawks, their best record against any team. ... Wallace was scheduled to travel to Washington so he can go through the team’s light shootaround before Saturday’s game. Wallace could be cleared to play next week.