ATLANTA (AP) — Josh Smith was proud of the Atlanta Hawks’ latest effort against another struggling Eastern Conference team.
Smith had 30 points and 12 rebounds to lead Atlanta to a 93-84 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Friday night.
Jeff Teague had 17 points and six assists, Joe Johnson scored 16 and Kirk Hinrich added 14 for the Hawks. Atlanta won for the fourth time in five games to pull within four percentage points of Indiana, which lost 113-111 to Phoenix, for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
“They just played hard,” Smith said. “I think that we took our time on the offensive end. We let the ball move from side to side and we were able to get some open looks and get some easy buckets.”
Deron Williams scored 20 points and Kris Humphries added 17 for New Jersey, which has lost five straight and seven of eight. The Nets’ 34 defeats are fourth-most in the NBA.
“A loss is a loss,” Williams said. “It’s been a tough week. Teams go through it. We’re going through it.”
Atlanta had a hard time two nights ago holding off Cleveland, which is 9-22 against the Eastern Conference, before prevailing in overtime at home.
The difference this time was that the Hawks outscored New Jersey 31-15 in the fourth quarter after trailing by seven to end the third.
“They’ve always been a team that poses problems for us,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “Deron is so hard to defend for us. There are going to be some games where it’s going to be like that, trading baskets. Whichever team makes a stand defensively and creates some separation (usually wins).”
Teague’s uncontested layup gave the Hawks a nine-point lead, their biggest of the game, with 3:56 remaining.
After Anthony Morrow hit a 20-footer to bring the Nets within four, Smith answered with a left-handed hook over Humphries and hit two free throws on the next possession to put Atlanta up 88-80 with 2:05 to go.
“I was just taking my time being patient,” Smith said. “Observing what the defense was giving me and trying to take advantage of it. (Humphries is) a guy that plays with high energy and high intensity. He gets double-doubles. I definitely had to concentrate on him and respect his game.”
The Nets went on a 16-2 run to end the third quarter with a 69-62 lead, but the Hawks never trailed after Johnson’s runner made it 74-73 with remaining in the game.
“We had a pretty good third quarter, but unfortunately we start off well in the fourth,” New Jersey coach Avery Johnson said. “Some silly turnovers turned the game around, especially when we’re trying to give our starters a rest. We still hung in there, but couldn’t close them out.”
Atlanta’s Marvin Williams scored 11 points in 26 minutes after missing the Hawks’ last five games with a hip flexor. He fell hard to the floor in the second quarter, but moved without problems in the final two quarters.
“I think in the first half my timing was really off,” Williams said. “I didn’t think my timing was going to be off that bad. Coach gave me a chance in the second half to kind of get it together, and I think I did that.”
The Hawks have won five straight against New Jersey, including seven in a row at home.
“New Jersey is a pesky team with a lot of physical players,” Teague said. “We had to slow them down after the third quarter, and we were able to get a few stops and convert some easy baskets. Josh gave us a huge lift again tonight.”
NOTES: Johnson said before the game that C Brook Lopez, who traveled with the team, will miss another two weeks with his sprained right ankle. Lopez has already been sidelined 11 straight games with the injury. He missed the first 32 games with a broken right foot. … Hawks C Al Horford hopes to return for the first round of the playoffs. Horford, who has missed the last 37 games after tearing his left pectoral, has yet to resume basketball activities but has been getting up a one-handed shot with his right arm.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)