It's been a long time since the Atlanta Hawks have played this well. With another victory, the first-place Hawks will have their longest winning streak in seven years.

Atlanta looks to continue its surprising start Saturday when it begins a three-game homestand against the Seattle SuperSonics.

After starting 0-9 last season, Atlanta finished 26-56, its seventh straight losing season. The Hawks weren't expected to improve much this year, but have stunned the league by winning four of their first five games to grab first place in the Southeast Division.

``This is definitely big for us because last year we got off to such a slow start and that kept us down in the dumps,'' Hawks guard Joe Johnson said. ``This year we came out upbeat.''

Since a 88-75 loss to Philadelphia in the season opener, Atlanta has won four straight and is three games above .500 for the first time since finishing 31-19 in the lockout-shortened 1999 season, also the last year the Hawks (4-1) made the playoffs.

The four-game winning streak is already Atlanta's longest since a five-game run Nov. 27-Dec. 8, 1999.

``When you have seven losing seasons people are always going to count you out. We use that as a chip on our shoulder,'' said Hawks forward Josh Smith, who had a career-high 29 points in Atlanta's 111-102 win Friday over Toronto.

The Hawks are being led by Johnson, who had another big game against the Raptors.

Johnson scored a season-high 34 points and added eight rebounds and five assists to lift the Hawks. He has scored at least 30 points in three of Atlanta's five games this season.

``Joe came out on mission,'' Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. ``He had it going early. Josh got it going in the second half so it just made it a double threat.''

Maybe the new-look Hawks can reverse their current level of play against the Sonics (2-4). Seattle has won five straight over the Hawks and 10 of the last 13, including an 8-2 record in Atlanta.

Seattle guard Ray Allen has especially liked facing the Hawks. His teams have won the last 11 he's started against Atlanta and 16 of the last 17 with his name on the lineup card.

Allen has failed to reach 20 points in only four of those 17 games.

He gave Seattle a big boost in its 99-85 win Friday over Charlotte, scoring 26 points to help the Sonics avoid a third straight loss.

Rashard Lewis chipped in with 21 points - 19 after halftime following a pep talk from coach Bob Hill.

``He kind of jumped on my case a little bit,'' Lewis said. ``The game was pretty close, but he didn't like our attitude and our facial expressions.

``In the first half, every time I caught the ball they were coming with a double team. In the second half, it didn't seem they were coming as fast and I got a lot more shots.''

Seattle is in the midst of a five-game road trip and had lost the first two before beating the Bobcats.

The Sonics conclude the trip Monday at New Jersey.


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