Hawks have a laugh before thrashing Rockets

But once the laughter subsided and the ball tipped, the Hawks were all business in defeating the Rockets 102-95.

The Hawks won their third straight game and eighth of 10 to take a one-game lead over the Magic at the top of the Southeast Division. The Hawks improved to 11-9 on the road by snapping a 10-game losing streak at Houston, where they hadn’t won since Feb. 25, 1999.

“We’re growing as a basketball team,” Woodson said. “It’s nice to see because we’ve had games here where we were not within 30.”

Facing a tough and scrappy opponent at the opening of a taxing four-game stretch, the Hawks overpowered the Rockets with their talent on offense and teamwork on defense. The Hawks took control with a 12-0 run in the second quarter and never let the Rockets get closer than six in the second half.

“We are one of the elite teams in the league when we play up to our ability,” said Hawks guard Joe Johnson.

Before the game, they were a fun-loving team. The players noticed something looked a bit different about their coach: Woodson’s eyebrows were shaved.

There was some chatter and nervous laughter among players until forward Josh Smith finally said what everyone else was thinking: What happened?

“I think everyone else was afraid to ask,” Smith said.

As his players doubled over in laughter, Woodson kept a straight face and refused to explain. Later, Smith affixed some Velcro eyebrows to Woodson’s face, and that’s how the coach appeared for the pregame meeting.

When asked for the story behind the eyebrows, Woodson wasn't divulging anything.

“They got me doing all kinds of crazy stuff. There is no story. It’s just a win.”

It’s still unclear exactly why Woodson’s eyebrows were missing -- theories ranged from Woodson shaving them off at his barber’s suggestion to his losing a bet on the Vikings in the NFC Championship game -- but Smith said the effect of Woodson’s new look was to relax the team before an important game.

“We wanted to have a happy-go-lucky atmosphere,” Smith said.

The Hawks play at San Antonio on Wednesday night. They return to Philips Arena on Friday to face Boston, which is a half-game ahead for No. 2 in the Eastern Conference, before playing at Orlando on Saturday.

Etc.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Hawks have more than twice as many victories as defeats this late in the season for the first time since 1996-97, when they finished 57-24. ... Hawks center Al Horford needed six stitches to close a gash opened by Houston’s Chuck Hayes in the first quarter. He returned to the game in the second quarter.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.