Hawks soar past CavaliersBy TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer Tuesday, Nov 2, 2010
CLEVELAND (AP)—There’s still one perfect team in the Eastern Conference.
It’s from the deep south, loaded with young, improving stars and it just might be good enough to make a run at an NBA title.
Watch out, Miami.
The Atlanta Hawks could be gaining on you.
Marvin Williams(notes) scored 22 points, Al Horford(notes) muscled his way to 16 and 12 rebounds and the Hawks remained the East’s only undefeated team by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 100-88 on Tuesday night for their fourth straight win.
Often overlooked in the increasingly tough and getting-better-every-year East, the Hawks are showing early signs they may be able to stay with the Heat, Celtics, Magic and Bulls this season. With a group that has grown together in recent years, Atlanta could be a dark horse in a crowded field.
“We’re flying under the radar,” Williams said. “I don’t think anyone’s upset about it. We know what we’re capable of doing. We have confidence in ourselves. We have to show it every night.”
J.J. Hickson(notes) scored a career-high 31 points and was playfully serenaded with “M-V-P” chants by Cleveland fans, who reserved that singing in the past for superstar LeBron James(notes) before he decided to move from Ohio to Florida this summer.
“We haven’t been fully healthy, and with this team, we need everyone,” Mo Williams said. “We just have to regroup.”
After building a 17-point lead in the first half on a shooting tear, the Hawks cooled off and Cavs back in it with defense. Atlanta only led 89-84 with 5:35 left on a dunk by Horford, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension on Monday.
Cleveland had several chances to get closer, but with the Hawks paying extra attention to Hickson inside, the Cavs had to rely on their outside game and couldn’t hit a big shot when they needed one. They went 1 for 8 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Hickson’s layup got the Cavaliers within 91-87 with 3:49 left, but Marvin Williams made two free throws and Horford, with no one to pass to at the top of the key, buried a 20-footer as the 24-second shot clock wound down to put the Hawks ahead by eight.
It may have been a bit messy down the stretch, but the Hawks found positives in holding on.
“We got off to a real good start and then we hit some adversity,” Horford said. “That’s a good sign. We were able to pull it out. We’re handling situations better. Last year, this would have been a game we would have let slip away. We feel very confident.”
Down by 13 after one, the Cavs limited the Hawks to 19 points in the second quarter. Unfortunately, Cleveland gave up 40 in the first quarter when Atlanta, shooting better than 70 percent for much of the period, threatened to blow the Cavs out.
After Sacramento was able to easily penetrate the heart of Cleveland’s defense for easy baskets in a comeback win on Saturday, Scott put an emphasis on his team cutting off driving lanes to the Hawks, one of the league’s most athletic squads.
Cleveland succeeded in doing that early on. Trouble was, the Hawks hardly missed a shot. Atlanta went 15 of 21 (71 percent) from the field in the first 12 minutes.
“I thought they hit some tough shots, but we had some defensive lapses as well,” Scott said. “Then they got going and we still challenged shots, but they made them. You have to figure at some point that they are going to calm down and miss some.”
NOTES: Mo Williams missed Cleveland’s first three games with a groin injury. … Horford’s new deal locked up one of Atlanta’s core players and prevented him from potentially becoming a restricted free agent next summer. Coach Larry Drew is pleased Horford’s contract situation is resolved. “I’m glad that it’s finalized and that he’s going to be a Hawk for a long time,” Drew said. … Scott said Williams will likely make his first start on Friday in Philadelphia. … Iron lung? Hawks radio announcer Steve Holman worked his 1,800th consecutive game, a streak that includes regular season and playoff games and dates to 1989.