But coming off a pair of impressive defensive performances, the Hawks figure to face a much tougher test on Wednesday when they visit the Hornets—the NBA’s highest-scoring team thus far.
By grabbing the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference last spring, Atlanta earned its first playoff berth in nine seasons and came within one game of knocking off top-seeded Boston in the first round.
The Hawks (2-0) have arguably played even better early this season, holding a pair of 2008 playoff teams under 90 points. After a 99-85 win at Orlando in their opener, they beat Philadelphia 95-88 on Saturday after outscoring the Sixers 29-13 in the fourth quarter.
“The guys tasted it last year. They want to get back,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “I know it’s early, but if we play defense and the rebound the ball like that, we’ll be in a lot of games.”
Atlanta All-Star Joe Johnson scored 35 points, giving him 60 in the two games. The Hawks turned the ball over just nine times Saturday and held the 76ers to 31 second-half points.
Josh Smith already has seven blocked shots and seven steals in the Hawks’ first two games, while Atlanta has held opponents to 39 percent shooting.
The Hawks haven’t opened a season 3-0 since 1997-98, but shutting down the Hornets (3-0)—especially on the road—would be an even more impressive feat. Despite their win at Orlando to start 2008-09, the Hawks won just five road games against playoff teams last season and lost four games at Boston in the playoffs by an average of more than 25 points.
New Orleans had gone three straight seasons without making the playoffs before winning a franchise-record 56 games in 2007-08 and falling one victory shy of the Western Conference finals. Coach Byron Scott’s team may now be even stronger, with its 106.7 points per game leading the league.
Even with starters Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler both out with sprained ankles for Saturday’s home opener against Cleveland, the Hornets still erased an early deficit for a 104-92 win. Stojakovic and Chandler are considered day-to-day and could return Wednesday.
“In the NBA and especially in this Western Conference, every win you get is very valuable,” New Orleans point guard Chris Paul said. “At the end of the year, we’re going to look back on these wins and say, ‘Man, that was a good one.’ We’ve got to keep piling them up.”
With 24 points and 15 assists against the Cavaliers, Paul outshined Cleveland star LeBron James, while Hornets forward David West added 24 points as New Orleans shot better than 47 percent from the floor for the third straight game.
The Hornets have also shot 50 percent (27-of-54) from 3-point range, thanks in large part to the addition of James Posey to the lineup. After serving as the sixth man for the Celtics en route to their NBA title last season, Posey signed with New Orleans and is 10-of-16 (62.5 percent) from beyond the arc while averaging 13.0 points.
“We have very unselfish guys,” Posey said. “You have Chris making plays for himself and everybody else. You move the ball and you get wide-open shots.”
The Hornets have won four straight against Atlanta, including both meetings last season. The Hawks lost 116-101 at New Orleans on March 5, with Paul racking up 23 points and 18 assists and West totaling 29 points and nine rebounds.