With plenty of star power in the Eastern Conference, it may be easy to overlook the Atlanta Hawks.
The New Jersey Nets already know why others should start taking notice.
Atlanta began its two-game run of dominance with a blowout victory in New Jersey in its season opener, and the Hawks will look to build off their recent efforts when they host the struggling Nets on Friday night.
The Hawks (2-0) aren't thought to be in a class with MVP Derrick Rose and Chicago, nor with Miami's big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Even New York with Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony garner more attention.
If taking the top-seeded Bulls to six games in last season's playoffs wasn't enough, Atlanta has shown it's still a team to be reckoned with after a pair of double-digit victories to begin this season.
The Hawks followed up their 106-70 win over New Jersey on Tuesday with a 101-83 rout of Washington the following night, and coach Larry Drew isn't hiding his team's goal.
''We're hoping we can become a team that's mentioned with some of the other teams,'' said Drew, whose team has yet to trail in a game yet.
Expectations are reaching so high that Drew feels Atlanta needs an improved defensive effort, despite opponents shooting only a combined 35.1 percent.
''There were parts of the game where we lacked defensive intensity,'' Drew said. ''I thought we had opportunities to really put (the Wizards) away. ... I didn't feel we had a total grip of the game even when we got up by 20.''
The Hawks seemed in control early and often Tuesday against the Nets, leading by 22 at halftime and beating New Jersey for the seventh time in the last nine meetings.
Atlanta has won the last five home matchups versus the Nets, who opened the season with a 90-84 win over Washington but lost their next two after falling 94-78 at Orlando on Thursday.
The Nets (1-2) have struggled to put points on the board without center Brook Lopez, who will be out at least another month with a broken foot. Surprisingly, rookie MarShon Brooks has led the team in scoring in two straight games, netting 17 points in each.
Deron Williams struggled again, shooting 2 for 12 and finishing with 10 points. He went 3 for 11 with 10 points and only one assist in the first meeting with the Hawks.
''It is definitely frustrating,'' Williams said. ''I am not playing well right now and the team is not playing too well right now."
The first quarter has been especially damaging for the Nets, trailing by double-digits after 12 minutes in each contest.
Despite coming back from a 21-point deficit to beat Washington in their opener, they were outscored 26-13 in the opening quarter. New Jersey fell behind 28-11 to Atlanta and 28-16 to Orlando, leaving little chance for a rally.
The Nets' quick deficits aren't ideal, though Williams said there's plenty of time to get back on track.
"It is not time to panic," he said. "We are going to have a little bit of struggles just because everybody is learning.''
New Jersey has lost 35 of its last 39 games on the road.
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