The Bobcats franchise is sending out an inexperienced, talent-deficient team for the chance at more pingpong balls in the draft lottery.
But the players are still playing for pride (and, perhaps, future paychecks), and that was enough for Hawks coach Larry Drew to warn his team about dismissing the team with the worst record in the NBA.
“The last few games they’ve been very competitive and played hard,” Drew said before the Hawks faced Charlotte on Wednesday. “We are not good enough to look past anybody.”
Maybe not, but the Hawks were plenty good enough to dominate Charlotte once they decided to add some tenacity to their talent.
After a sluggish start, the Hawks flicked aside the Bobcats for a 120-93 victory at Philips Arena. The Hawks (32-23) won their eighth game in the past 12 by putting down the Bobcats (7-45) in the second quarter and keeping them there.
Hawks forward Josh Smith scored a game-high 24 points in 27 minutes. Fellow starters Jeff Teague (17 points, six assists) and Joe Johnson (16 points, five assists) joined Smith on the bench for the entire fourth quarter as Hawks reserves extended the lead to as many as 32 points.
The Hawks outscored the Bobcats 93-68 over the final three quarters.
“We’re playing for something, so we have to keep focused,” Smith said after making 11 of 17 shots. “We can’t have any letdowns. We’ve got to finish out strong going into the playoffs.”
The Hawks began Wednesday in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but just two losses behind third-place Indiana. The Pacers (33-21) ended up winning 109-96 at Washington, so Atlanta didn’t gain ground.
The Hawks couldn’t afford a stumble against the Bobcats. Charlotte’s woes were compounded by playing without Corey Maggette (Achilles), one of the team’s few productive veterans.
Charlotte last won March 17, but had shown more fight recently. The Hawks opened the game seemingly content to trade baskets with the Bobcats, who shot 52 percent to trail 27-25 after one quarter.
Hawks reserves gave the team a jolt early in the second quarter, and it seemed to carry over to the starters once they returned.
The Hawks opened the quarter with a 12-5 burst in which Marvin Williams scored on a layup, Ivan Johnson cut to the basket for a dunk and Willie Green scored four of six points on free throws. Smith later scored seven consecutive points: a three-point play on a drive, a layup and an alley-oop dunk.
Those sequences summed up how the Hawks opened a 61-44 lead at half. The Hawks scored 20 points in the paint during the quarter, 38 in the half and 60 for the game.
“After the first quarter we really turned up our intensity and energy,” Drew said. “It started with our bench. And when our starters came back in, they put their foot on the gas even more.”
The Hawks have suffered from slow starts to start quarters this season, but immediately went to work burying Charlotte after halftime. Kirk Hinrich opened with a 3-pointer, Smith dunked another alley-oop pass and the Hawks were on their way to the rout.
Hawks bench players combined to score 52 points. Green scored 17 points and Williams 14. Jannero Pargo, playing for the first time since missing 10 games after an appendectomy, had 12 points and six assists in 16 minutes.
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