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Hawks clinch home court with win over Mavericks

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Associated Press
4/26/2012 10:58:13 PM
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ATLANTA -- Having already exceeded expectations, the Atlanta Hawks weren't about to let home-court advantage slip away in the final game of the regular season.

Led by Josh Smith, Atlanta raced to a 23-point lead in the opening quarter on the way to a 106-89 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, ensuring the Hawks will open the playoffs at home.

"We showed a lot of determination," Joe Johnson said. "You could see that hunger in our eyes even before the tip."

The Hawks (40-26) wrapped up the fourth-best record in the East and host Boston on Sunday. The defending NBA champion Mavericks (36-30) begin the playoffs Saturday at Oklahoma City.

Atlanta pounced on the Mavericks right from the tip, making 16 of 23 shots (69.6 per cent) in the opening period. Smith had the outside jumper working and seemed to be everywhere, scoring 12 points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out five assists and making a steal. A 28-7 run, capped by Willie Green's 3-pointer, pushed the lead to 36-13.

"It just opens up my game when I have the opportunity to gauge whether I should be driving in or shooting the jumper," said Smith, who finished 10 for 14 from the field. "Whenever I'm shooting the ball like that, it just makes me that much more deadly on offence."

The Hawks led 60-44 at halftime and held off a brief spurt by the Mavericks at the start of the third quarter, capping a season in which Atlanta improved on its winning percentage from 2011 even after losing All-Star centre Al Horford early in the lockout-shortened year.

Horford, who is still recovering from pectoral surgery, has ruled himself out for the Boston series but still hopes to play if the Hawks advance from the opening round for the fourth year in a row. While the team hasn't gotten past the second round since moving to Atlanta in 1968, Johnson feels a special vibe with this group.

"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished," he said. "You saw a lot of guys come into their own this year."

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 22 points, but it was another tough night for the reigning champs. Dallas wasn't nearly as dominant coming off its first NBA title, finishing far behind the top seeds in the West, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. With only its first-round opponent in doubt, the Mavericks had little to play for in Atlanta -- and their performance reflected it. "

"The first quarter was horrible," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It'd be a stretch to say we're playing our best. At this point, we have to move forward. We're going to have to flush this one -- very quickly."

Jason Kidd rested up for the playoffs, watching the game from the bench in street clothes.

"The dress rehearsal's over," he said. "Now it's time for us to protect our crown."

Jeff Teague added 17 points for the Hawks, Johnson had 15 and Kirk Hinrich contributed 12. Smith finished with nine rebounds and seven assists.

With the home court no longer in doubt, Atlanta was finally able to rest its starters in the final quarter. Green scored 11 points, Ivan Johnson finished with 10 and the Hawks got 33 points overall from their reserves.

Rodrigue Beaubois scored 13 points for Dallas. Jason Terry had 11.

"We're ready," Terry insisted. "That's what you play for, another championship."

The Mavericks closed the season losing four of their last six games.

"It doesn't matter if you're on a high or a low," Terry said. "The last few games don't matter. It's irrelevant. The only thing that matters is how we come out in Game 1."

The Hawks are looking forward to matching up with the Celtics. The teams faced in the opening round in 2008, after Atlanta made the playoffs for the first time in nine years and surprisingly forced top-seeded Boston to seven games.

This season, the Celtics won two of three meetings by a total of 10 points, including an overtime victory in Boston.

"We've had a lot of chippy moments with them, a lot of good games," Smith said. "We've played this team well. It's going to be an exciting series."

NOTES: Hawks G Jannero Pargo did not dress because of a sore back. ... Atlanta coach Larry Drew is sounding less and less optimistic about C Zaza Pachulia (sprained left foot) coming back for the opening round of the playoffs. "Personally, I'm not getting my hopes up too high that we'll have him," Drew said. ... This was the only regular-season meeting between the teams. The Mavericks had won the last three games against the Hawks, including a 2-0 sweep of last year's series.

Joe Johnson, Josh Smith (Photo: Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images)
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