Hawks Handle Lakers, Snap West Road Slide
Atlanta 114, L.A. Lakers 110
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 15 (Ticker) -- It took career bests from Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, but the Atlanta Hawks finally won out West.
Smith tied career highs with 21 points and 15 rebounds and Johnson added 20 points and a career-best 15 assists as the Hawks erased an early 15-point deficit en route to a 114-110 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers.
"Wow," said Atlanta's Josh Childress, who scored a season-high 21 points off the bench. "That's an interesting fact right there. It just shows that the West is a heck of a conference from top to bottom. Some teams there are going to finish with good records but not make the playoffs."
"We just have to keep working hard," Johnson said. "I think we have a great chance to be a good team. I really enjoyed the win tonight because the guys could have come out and just gone through the motions with the game being the last one before the All-Star break. Everyone is looking forward to the break. But our guys came out and played hard and I was really glad to see that."
Early on, it did not appear that the slide was going to end as the Lakers raced to a 27-12 lead thanks to 10 first-quarter points from All-Star starter Kobe Bryant.
The Hawks shaved the deficit to 10 points by the end of the opening period before beginning the second with a 16-6 burst. Johnson scored seven points and Childress added five during the surge.
"I've just been coming out and being assertive and getting my guys involved first, and then I will come looking for my shot," Johnson said. "If I can get them going, then it opens up for me."
A tight contest for the next two quarters resulted in Los Angeles taking an 86-83 lead early in the fourth period. However, Atlanta responded with an 11-1 burst to take the lead for good.
Smith scored five points during the surge, including a pair of free throws that gave the Hawks an 94-87 lead with 8:03 to go. Atlanta's bulge eventually grew to 101-92 on Johnson's jumper with 4:28 remaining.
"Coach (Mike) Woodson just stressed that everybody has to get back on defense," Smith said. "Kobe has to see a wall of defenders in order for him not to attack the basket. We tried to make it our priority to get into the paint to try and stop their fast break and make plays on the ball."
The Lakers got as close as 105-104 with 2:06 remaining on a 3-pointer by Lamar Odom, who finished with 17 points, but were doomed by poor shooting at the free-throw line.
Smush Parker had a chance to tie the game with a dunk, but the ball hit the heel of the rim and came out with less than a minute to play.
"Free throws and of course missing the dunk cost us the game," Parker said. "Can't do anything about it now. At the end of the season, when we look back on these games we let slip through our hands, it is going to bite our (rears)."
Bryant, who started the fast break with a steal, trailed Parker and rebounded the missed dunk. However, he slipped and turned the ball over.
"I got the ball but got pushed a little bit and lost my footing," Bryant said. "But we had an opportunity to tie the ball game up but just didn't have the push."
"We just made plays down the stretch," Childress said. "It's just a matter of us putting things together. We've been in a ton of games this season but we haven't been able to finish them. Once we get to that point I think we'll be a pretty good team."
Bryant, who is an 85 percent free-throw shooter this season, was just 6-of-12 at the stripe. He finished with 39 points but twice in the final three minutes split two free throws.
"We just had a lid on the basket tonight," Bryant said. "It was one of those nights you can't really explain. It just become contagious and no one could get the ball in the basket."
The NBA's leading scorer is looking forward to the All-Star break and the second half of the season.
"The best thing about this is the break is coming and we'll have a chance to put this all behind us and move on," Bryant said. "I am looking forward to the second half for us to string a bunch of wins together."