Nine NBA seasons have taught Jamal Crawford the value of not humiliating an opponent.
“We didn’t want to embarrass anybody with a new coach and without their best player,” Crawford said. “They’re going through a lot right now.”
Joe Johnson scored 26 points, Crawford added 21, and the Atlanta Hawks beat the New Orleans Hornets 121-98 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.
The Hornets were without Chris Paul, who stayed home after spraining his ankle from the night before. They have lost three straight and five of six.
Josh Smith had 17 points and 17 rebounds for Atlanta, which was coming off an 11-point win Friday in Boston.
Peja Stojakovic scored 25 points, but New Orleans fell to 0-2 under Jeff Bower, the general manager who became the coach this week after Byron Scott’s firing.
Bower indicated that the Hornets will have a prognosis on Paul’s condition by Monday, but the coach had no immediate update after the game on a timetable for New Orleans’ best player.
Even with Paul healthy, however, Bower believes the Hornets are playing too poorly in their transition defense to start a long winning streak.
“Like I told the team at halftime, this is something that has to be fixed,” Bower said. “We were effective with that in this game in stretches, but not long enough. We’re getting it in bursts but not enough to beat a team of this caliber.”
Stojakovic hit a straightaway 3-pointer to cut the lead to six with 8:44 remaining, but the Hawks went on a 15-0 run, ending with Mike Bibby’s 3 with 4:24 remaining, to make it 110-89.
“We were getting stops,” Johnson said. “Our defense was getting the rebounds, and we were getting wide-open shots.”
Crawford, acquired in an offseason trade with Golden State, likes his role as a sixth man in Atlanta. He started all 65 games last season, splitting time with the Warriors and New York Knicks. In 607 career games, Crawford has made 393 starts.
“Honestly, now I’d rather come off the bench,” Crawford said. “I like to see how the flow of the game is going.”
Atlanta improved to 8-2 overall, 4-0 at home.
Johnson’s putback with 7:41 remaining put the Hawks ahead 98-89. Their lead stayed in double figures after Bibby’s jumper on the next possession.
Bibby finished with 17 points and five assists.
Bobby Brown scored 13 for the Hornets, but was just 1 for 6 on 3-point attempts. David West and Emeka Okafor each had 12 rebounds and eight points.
Darren Collison started in Paul’s spot, finishing with 10 points and four assists.
Stojakovic doesn’t know how the Hornets will fare without Paul.
“It’s different because our game was based on him creating for everybody, and now we just have to all step it up, move the ball, just kind of play off each other,” Stojakovic said. “I think maybe in the long run it will help us to get our team going, but right now we have to deal with things like that. We have to stay in there and fight.”
For the Hawks, times are different. After averaging 59 losses in its first three seasons under Mike Woodson, Atlanta is aiming for its third straight playoff appearance with a starting lineup of Johnson, Bibby, Al Horford, Smith and Marvin Williams.
“They’re growing up,” Woodson said of his players. “We have size this year. With Zaza (Pachulia) and Joe (Smith) coming off the bench, we have a lot of size. We’re not scarce this year for big guys.”
NOTES: The Hornets fell to 0-6 on the road, 0-7 overall, when entering the third quarter with a deficit. … Atlanta improved to 7-0 when leading as they begin the fourth.