Hornets, Hawks Leading Their Divisions

Wednesday, November 8th 2006, 6:14 am
By: News On 6

The undefeated Hornets. The first-place Hawks. Pretty exciting stuff for a pair of teams that aren't used to being on top.

How come neither of them sound impressed?

Atlanta won its third straight Tuesday night with a surprising 104-95 victory at Cleveland. Joe Johnson scored 25 points _ six on consecutive possessions in overtime _ and Tyronn Lue added 19 points, 11 assists and a buzzer-beating layup over LeBron James that forced overtime.

``It feels good, but it's a long season,'' Johnson said. ``Three-and-one doesn't mean a lot right now. We've got to keep grinding it out, working hard and who knows what's going to happen.''

Here's what has already happened: The Hawks have more victories than they did all last November. Win No. 3 came on Dec. 10 during a 26-56 season _ one in which they doubled their victory total from the previous season.

The Hornets improved to 4-0 for the first time in franchise history with a 97-93 victory over Golden State. The Hornets followed their home-opening victory in New Orleans by winning their opener in Oklahoma City to join 4-0 Utah as the NBA's lone unbeatens.

They refuse to get ahead of themselves, either.

``We're still trying to build an identity,'' Chris Paul said. ``It's only four games into a new season. It's still possible for us to finish 4-78. You never know.''

In other games, it was: Indiana 97, Philadelphia 86; Miami 90, Seattle 87; Houston 86, Memphis 80; and the Los Angeles Lakers 95, Minnesota 88.

Paul had 22 points and 11 assists while running the Hornets' balanced attack. Peja Stojakovic scored 18 points, David West had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Desmond Mason added 12 points. Tyson Chandler had 10 points and 14 rebounds.

``You can't key on one guy with our team,'' Paul said. ``Some teams have a guy that down the stretch they're going to go to that guy every time. With our team it varies.''

The Hornets stayed in the Western Conference playoff race deep into last season, and were expected to contend for a spot this time after acquiring Stojakovic and Chandler over the summer.

``I think every player on the team is getting more confident when we step on the floor that we can get the job done,'' Mason said. ``Even in tight situations we're getting it done. Last year we didn't do that. Last year we kind of fell flat a little bit in those situations down the stretch. We couldn't make plays.''

The team that didn't make them in Cleveland was the Cavaliers. The Cavs were 23-of-37 from the line, including 8-of-18 in the fourth quarter and overtime. James was only 5-of-11 during his 34-point night.

The Hawks, on the other hand, made all the big plays. Not bad for a team which has had seven consecutive losing seasons.

``This is a big confidence boost for us,'' Lue said. ``We've found a way to win these games down the stretch.''

Pacers 97, 76ers 86

At Indianapolis, Jermaine O'Neal had 16 points and 11 rebounds as the Pacers handed Philadelphia its first loss of the season.

Reserve Rawle Marshall scored 16 points, while Al Harrington and Danny Granger each had 14 for Indiana (3-1), which won its second consecutive game by double digits.

Allen Iverson finished with 20 points on 8-of-22 shooting from the field for the 76ers (3-1), who trailed by double figures the entire second half. Kyle Korver and Willie Green each scored 14.

Heat 90, SuperSonics 87

At Miami, James Posey's 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining lifted the Heat, who were playing without Shaquille O'Neal.

Dwyane Wade scored 31 points despite going 8-of-23 for the defending NBA champions, who improved to 2-2. Reserve Dorell Wright had nine points, five rebounds and a career-high six assists.

Rashard Lewis scored 23 points and Ray Allen added 18 for Seattle.

O'Neal missed a second straight game because of a bruised left knee. Heat coach Pat Riley said X-rays and MRI results of O'Neal's knee were negative.

Lakers 95, Timberwolves 88

At Los Angeles, Andrew Bynum had 20 points, 14 rebounds and some key plays down the stretch.

Kobe Bryant, in the third game of his comeback from last summer's knee surgery, had 17 points while taking only seven shots, and added six assists. Lamar Odom chipped in with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Luke Walton had 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Kevin Garnett led Minnesota with 26 points and nine rebounds, and rookie Randy Foye had 12 points.

Rockets 86, Grizzlies 80

Yao Ming scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to help Houston win in Shane Battier's return to Memphis.

Tracy McGrady had 19 points and nine rebounds for the Rockets, who overcame 24 turnovers and 42 percent shooting. Battier added 12 points in 42 minutes.

Memphis (1-3) was led by Stromile Swift, acquired in the trade for Battier. He scored 15 points.