NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks have seen the New Jersey Nets so much this season, it has the feeling of a playoff series, and a sweep at that.
Josh Smith scored a season-high 26 points and the Hawks shot nearly 54 percent from the field in beating the Nets for the third time this season, 106-101 on Monday night.
"It's always toughest to play a team a third time around," said Smith, who was 10 of 14 from the field in topping his season-high for the second straight game. "It almost had the feel of being a semi-playoff game. We took over the game early, but they put their best effort for us. They always play hard. I just didn't want to get disappointed and lose this one. This is probably the best game I've played here."
It might have been one of the Nets' better games, too. They've had a habit of falling behind early and never coming close.
This time they made the Hawks work for the victory.
The teams will finish their four-game series on March 23 in Atlanta. The Nets should have center Brook Lopez back in the lineup. He has missed the start of the season with a broken foot and it has forced New Jersey to take more shots from the outside. They hit only five in the first quarter and had to play catch up the rest of the way.
"That has been like an epidemic for us this year and we got do a better job," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "But again, our guys battled."
The Hawks noticed.
"They're an improving team, even though they're missing a big piece in Brook," said Joe Johnson, who added 22 points for the Hawks, including six in a fourth-quarter run that gave some late breathing room. "Each game with them has been tough. They don't make it easy for us."
Jeff Teague added 20 points, Al Horford had 14 points and nine rebounds and Vladimir Radmanovic had 14 points as the Hawks led for all but a few seconds in winning their third straight game overall.
Anthony Morrow had 20 points and rookie MarShon Brooks 19 as the Nets (2-8) remained winless in four games at home. Deron Williams added 15 points and 14 assists, but he also had six of the Nets' 16 turnovers and was 6 of 17 from the field.
"We have to get off to a better start obviously," said Morrow, who was 6 of 11 from the field. "I don't know if it's low energy but we're not putting a lot of pressure on defensively and offensively we are not executing. The good thing is I'm glad we fought back and got back in the game. To have to claw back like that, we should start off better and put ourselves in a better position to win the game."
The Nets made the final 2½ minutes interesting, cutting a 100-88 deficit to five points with roughly 30 seconds to play, four points with 11.1 seconds to go and eventually three points on a 3-pointer by Morrow with 4.2 seconds remaining.
After the Hawks called a time out, Johnson took the inbound pass and iced the game with two free throws.
Smith, who had a season-high 25 in a win over Chicago two nights ahead, had 14 points in the first half in helping Atlanta jump to a 56-45 lead.
"I'm just starting off aggressively and setting the tempo for me and my teammates," Smith said. "I'm getting into the flow of the offense more and getting better shots."
The Nets, who trailed by nine points entering the final quarter, got within 84-79 on a jumper by Brooks with 8:29 to play.
Johnson then posted up Brooks for a jumper to start a 16-9 spurt that put the Hawks ahead 100-88 on a floater in the lane by Teague with 2:27 to play. Johnson had six points in the run, Smith had three and fed Horford for a dunk and Vladimir Radmanovic, who was starting for the injured Marvin Williams, had a 3-pointer.
NOTES: The Nets played without small forward Damion James (sore right foot) and center Mehmet Okur (back). DeShawn Stevenson was a late scratch because of a sore right knee and Brooks got the start. ...The Nets begin a four-game road trip in Denver on Wednesday night. ...Johnson (9,646) moved past Eddie Johnson (9,631) into seventh place on the Hawks career scoring list. ...This was the first game the Nets scored 100 points this season.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
for more features.