Hawks rout New Jersey to open season

NEWARK, N.J. — Chances were the Hawks weren’t going to put all their preseason plans to practical application in the season opener at New Jersey on Tuesday.

They had too many new pieces to integrate. It will take time for their players to buy into coach Larry Drew’s aggressive new defense. Bench scoring is a question mark.

But the Hawks did all of those things from the tipoff and never let up while drilling the Nets 106-70 at the Prudential Center. Atlanta enjoyed its largest-ever victory margin in a season opener and won its first  game for the fifth consecutive season.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Hawks became just the third team in NBA history to win on the road by 35 points or more in a season opener. Cleveland won 133-93 at Charlotte in 1988 and Chicago won 108-66 at Miami in 2006.

The performance came against the Nets, who were expected to be Eastern Conference punching bags even before center Brook Lopez suffered a foot fracture. Still, the Hawks had lost in their past two trips to New Jersey and were without Kirk Hinrich (shoulder).

This time the Hawks handled the Nets with a spirited, professional effort. Atlanta never trailed and led by as many as 39 points. After trailing 28-11 at the end of the first quarter, the Nets never trimmed the lead to less than 13 points.

The Hawks eased to victory in spite of relatively quiet offensive nights from Joe Johnson (11 points), Al Horford (eight) and Josh Smith (five). It turned out those three didn’t need to do much scoring because the rest of the Hawks chipped in with points and everyone contributed to the smothering defensive effort.

"I thought our team played with a lot of energy," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We applied pressure pretty much the whole game."

Marvin Williams, who is looking and feeling better after offseason back surgery, crashed the boards and scored on putbacks and free throws while totaling 14 points. Guard Jeff Teague scored 13 points, including three 3-pointers.

After a quiet preseason, new Hawks guard Tracy McGrady (12 points) came alive. Vladimir Radmanovic (17 points) sank three 3-pointers and Zaza Pachulia had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

The strong work by Hawks reserves allowed the starters to take several long breathers. None of them played more than 27 minutes, a good development for the Hawks since they play three more games over the next four days, starting Wednesday vs. Washington at Philips Arena.

“Man, I tip my hat to those guys,” Smith said of the reserves. “This is probably the deepest bench we’ve had in a long time, where [reserves] are coming off and the bench is keeping the same intensity and energy as the starters, if not more. If we have this on a consistent basis I think we are going to be a pretty good team.”

With Lopez out, guard Deron Williams and forward Kris Humphries represented New Jersey’s top offensive threats. The Hawks controlled those two, and New Jersey shot just 31 percent from the field.

"We have guys that are versatile and have length," Drew said. "Our defensive scheme tonight was to try to put them under as much duress as we possibly could."

The Nets had a lively sellout crowd of 18,711 to begin the team’s final season in New Jersey before moving to Brooklyn. Nets fans were in a frenzy after former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams played the national anthem on his guitar before the game.

It wasn’t long before they were booing the home team. The Hawks took an 11-2 lead behind two 3-pointers by Williams and one by Teague. The jeers grew louder when Teague sank a 31-foot shot before the halftime buzzer that staked Atlanta to a 52-30 lead.

The Nets rallied from a 21-point deficit to win 90-84 at Washington on Monday. The Hawks made sure there wouldn’t be another comeback by scoring the fist five points of the second half and led 77-55 after three quarters.

Nets fans eventually started chanting for Magic center Dwight Howard. He has asked Orlando for a trade and included New Jersey on his list of preferred destinations.

By the fourth quarter, Hawks regulars watched as the reserves closed out the Nets. Ivan Johnson, a 27-year-old rookie, and 17-year pro Jerry Stackhouse each played six minutes.