Hawks pull away, keep Nets out of 1st-place tie
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- With so much focus on the Nets' division chase, it was easy to forget the Hawks are involved in their own race.
They want home-court advantage in the playoffs and perhaps sent a message to the Nets: Don't worry too much about catching that team ahead of you. Better keep an eye on the one right behind.
Al Horford had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the Hawks dominated the fourth quarter to beat Brooklyn 105-93 on Sunday night, keeping the Nets from tying for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Hawks earned a split of the season series, preventing the Nets from clinching a potentially important tiebreaker between teams batting for position in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks moved into sole possession of fifth place and pulled within a game of the Nets for fourth, breaking away from a three-way tie with Chicago and Boston.
"Huge, huge win," Horford said. "Now we're a game behind Brooklyn, so it was a big win for us. We're trying to be in the best possible position for the playoffs. Just a week ago we were in the seventh spot, almost in eighth and now I feel like we're starting to play like a better team. We're close to the fourth spot. Realistically we'd like to go up to the third spot."
Josh Smith added 21 points and seven boards for the Hawks, who won their third straight by outscoring the Nets 34-20 in the final period. Neither team led by more than six points over the first three quarters and the game was tied with under 9 minutes to play before Atlanta broke it open with a 19-6 run.
Reggie Evans had a season-high 14 points and grabbed 22 rebounds for the Nets, who headed out for an eight-game road trip on a disappointing note. A victory would have moved them even with the slumping New York Knicks atop their division.
Deron Williams and former Hawks guard Joe Johnson each added 18 points.
"This was a huge game for us and they played like it was and we really didn't," Williams said. "It's a big missed opportunity, especially with the Knicks losing today."
Williams' basket tied it at 77 with 9:11 remaining in the game, but Jeff Teague had consecutive baskets before finding Ivan Johnson on the break for a three-point play that made it 84-77.
Mirza Teletovic made a 3-pointer, but Atlanta answered with a 12-3 spurt, ending it with eight straight points to push the lead to 96-83 on Horford's jumper with 4:24 to play.
"I think we did a really conscious effort of just pushing the basketball and getting out in the open court and making it easy on ourselves to get some easy baskets," Smith said. "We were kind of grinding them and grinding them, ran them a little bit, got them up and down. We were able to come up with some stops."
Teague came off the bench for the second straight game after missing his first game of the season Wednesday against the Lakers because of a sprained left ankle. He finished with 11 points and 15 assists.
The Nets' road trip, equaling the longest in team history in terms of games, starts Monday in Detroit. They may have another chance to forge the tie with the Knicks, who had a six-game lead in the division after beating the Nets on Dec. 19 but have lost four in a row.
New York plays at Utah on Monday.
The Nets, who lost for the second time in six games, will be making way for a lengthy run of the circus at Barclays Center. They don't play at home again until April 4, with the bulk of the trip a six-game stretch against Western Conference teams.
"The positive thing about it is just knowing that it's the NBA, you've got so many games, so you go win the next one, then you forget all about this one, you know?" Evans said. "But it makes the flight longer, you know what I'm saying? You think about it even more that we should've won the game."
Neither team led by more than four points in the first half. The Nets were ahead 24-21 after one quarter and led most of the second, but the Hawks took a 51-49 lead into halftime after DeShawn Stevenson made a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock was set to expire with 9.8 seconds remaining before the break.
Notes: Atlanta used the same starting lineup for the second straight game after using a different one in each of the previous 10. The Hawks are the first team since Cleveland in 2010-11 to use a different starting group in each of 10 straight games. ... The game capped a busy week of basketball at Barclays, where the Nets beat New Orleans on Wednesday before Barclays hosted the Atlantic 10 tournament. ... Nets G C.J. Watson hosted nine Brooklyn-area middle school students who won his fourth annual black history essay contest. Watson and his Quiet Storm Foundation also honored the winners during a luncheon Saturday in New York.
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