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Atlanta Hawks 98, New Jersey Nets 87: Atlanta Clinches Spot In The Playoffs

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Just what the doctor ordered. Well maybe not exactly as the Hawks built a big first half lead before slacking up in the second half. Still with the way things have went lately who am I to complain about a 98-87 victory over the Nets. It might not have been a victory over a good team but it was a victory. The win also clinched Atlanta's spot in the playoffs although what seed they will be is still not mathematically nailed down.

One area of concern for Atlanta is that Joe Johnson suffered a thumb injury early in the third quarter and will miss at the very least tonight's game against Cleveland. Johnson scored 12 points on 5-7 shooting before exiting the game.

Al Horford led the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds including six straight after New Jersey had cut the Hawks lead from 30 all the way down to just 10. Josh Smith added 22 points and four rebounds on 8-12 shooting. An early 19-0 run helped push Atlanta out in front early before New Jersey was able to make the game respectable late. The Nets outscored the Hawks 56-41 in the second half including 26-16 in the final quarter.

Kirk Hinrich added a balanced effort with 11 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Jamal Crawford totaled 18 points and six assists but finished -1 is +/- stats for the game. Crawford was 7-18 and 2-9 from three-point range.

As Michael Cunningham noted in his post game blog entry, Atlanta did many good things early that have proven to be out of character for the team. Things like attacking the basket, passing up jump shots for drives, and making quick decisions on offense out of double teams. For stretches this team has shown that it can play a winning brand of basketball. Now the task becomes proving that they can do it against good teams and in the face of adversity.

Tonight's game against Cleveland isn't against a top-level team. If the Hawks win it will barely register while a loss on the other hand will be magnified. They will be without one of their key players in Johnson and Atlanta will need to come with a focused effort tonight. This is one of those games that given Atlanta's recent struggles they can't afford to drop even without Johnson.