The Associated Press ATLANTA (AP) — After a maddening, up-and-down season, the Atlanta Hawks seem to be getting hot at just the right time.
Dwight Howard had 19 points and 12 rebounds as the resurgent Hawks won their fourth straight game, routing the listless Charlotte Hornets 103-76 on Tuesday night to wrap up the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks will face the Washington Wizards in the opening round of the postseason.
“We think we can beat anybody that’s coming our way,” guard Dennis Schroder said. “We’ve still got to get better, but we’re heading in the right direction for sure.”
A week ago, Atlanta’s playoff hopes were in jeopardy after a dismal stretch that included two losses to Brooklyn, the worst team in the NBA.
Then, in a sudden turnaround that epitomized the team’s inconsistent play all season, the Hawks knocked off East-leading Boston and recorded two straight stunning victories over the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, including Sunday’s comeback from a 26-point deficit.
This one was never in doubt. Charlotte played its regular-season finale already eliminated from the playoffs and without its best player, Kemba Walker.
Atlanta raced out to a 63-44 lead by halftime, shooting 71 percent (24 of 34) over the first two quarters.
“There was a lot of good stuff at both ends of the court,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, before adding a word of caution. “We’ve been here before. We’ve got to stay hungry, stay edgy. The last four or five games, it’s been a simple message: compete and play together.
All 13 players scored for the Hawks, who were able to rest their starters in the second half. Paul Millsap and Ersan Ilyasova added 10 points apiece.
“We showed that we’ve got a bunch of guys who are ready to play,” said backup point guard Jose Calderon, who was on the court for more than 17 minutes. “That gives us confidence.”
World Peace goes out with bang
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Metta World Peace scored a team-leading 18 points during what might have been his final home game for the Lakers, and Los Angeles extended its late-season winning streak to five games with a 108-96 victory over New Orleans.
World Peace made his 840th career NBA start and hit four 3-pointers while scoring all of his points in the second half, thrilling his younger teammates and setting off chants of his name from the Staples Center crowd.
Although he hasn’t announced his retirement, the 37-year-old veteran of 17 NBA seasons got several standing ovations down the stretch.
Meanwhile in Dallas, Gary Harris scored 20 points and Denver beat the Mavericks 109-91 as the hosts honored retiring Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as a ceremonial player.
With nothing at stake in a lost season that will be the worst for Dallas (32-49) since going 20-62 in 1997-98, the Mavericks followed through with an idea hatched in part by star Dirk Nowitzki weeks ago when it was clear Romo wasn’t returning to the Cowboys.
The soon-to-be-37-year-old had the crowd on its feet in the final minute hoping he could play, but Romo wasn’t on the roster or under contract.