ATLANTA (AP)—Trips to Atlanta have a way of making the Cleveland Cavaliers forget that they usually struggle on the road.
The Cavaliers have won only four of 12 road games this season, but two of those wins have come in Atlanta—including Wednesday night’s 89-76 victory over the slumping Hawks.
Cleveland won for the sixth straight time in Atlanta, but Cavs coach Mike Brown wasn’t impressed.
“A win is a win is a win, whether it’s at home or on the road,” Brown said. “We did a poor job of playing for 48 minutes. … I thought tonight for 48 minutes we didn’t bring it.
“It’s part of the growing pains of the season. We won 50 games last year, we made it to the second round and everybody anointed us as the Eastern Conference champs. You tend to believe the hype sometimes. You tend to lose focus. I thought as an organization, not just as a team but as an organization, we believed the hype,” he added.
The Cavaliers snapped a four-game road skid, winning away from Cleveland for the first time since a Dec. 1 victory at Atlanta.
“I know we’re a better team than that on the road,” James said. “It showed tonight. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. This team has beaten us before.”
Atlanta won at Cleveland on Nov. 7, but the Hawks haven’t beaten the Cavaliers at home since Nov. 22, 2003, when James was a rookie.
The Hawks have lost nine of 10 overall.
Starting point guard Speedy Claxton (back), starting center Zaza Pachulia (elbow) and top backup Josh Childress (foot) returned from injuries for Atlanta, but guard Tyronn Lue missed his fifth straight with a groin injury.
The replenished depth wasn’t enough to help the Hawks overcome poor shooting (39.2 percent). Atlanta also committed 23 turnovers.
Joe Johnson, coming off a season-low 12 points Saturday in a loss to Detroit, was only 4-for-17 from the field. With 10 points, he finished 17 below his average.
“Joe finally hit a wall, I thought, tonight,” said Hawks coach Mike Woodson, adding that Johnson might have started to press with so many Atlanta players out of action.
Johnson credited Cleveland for “a great scheme” on defense.
“They played great defense tonight,” he said. “It seemed like anytime I drove to the basket, there was another man collapsing.”
Woodson said the Hawks are out of sync.
“We’ve got to get guys back comfortable playing offense,” Woodson said.
Claxton, who joined Johnson in the starting backcourt, was 4-for-13 for 11 points. He set a career high with eight steals.
“I’d trade it in for a win in a heartbeat,” Claxton said. “You play this game to win, not for personal stats.”
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 16 points for Cleveland.
Pachulia led Atlanta with 22 points. Childress added 12.
The Cavaliers sprinted to a 26-10 lead and led 50-37 at halftime as the Hawks shot only 31 percent from the field.
“We always get off to a bad start and it kind of triggers throughout the rest of the game,” Johnson said. “We’re always fighting back uphill trying to get back in the game, and it takes a lot of energy out of you.”
Claxton’s steal and 3-pointer—the first of the night by the Hawks—pulled Atlanta to 56-50 midway through the third quarter, the Cavaliers’ smallest lead since the opening minutes.
Cleveland kept its lead in double figures most of the final period.
Cleveland’s Eric Snow reached 4,000 career assists with his second assist early in the game. He is one of 10 active players with more than 4,000 assists. … Cavaliers G Ira Newble missed the game while attending a friend’s funeral in Detroit. … Woodson said F Josh Smith will miss four weeks after having hernia surgery Tuesday.