The Atlanta Hawks surprised the NBA with a strong performance in the first round of last spring's playoffs, following that up with a big victory on the road to open 2008-09.If the Philadelphia 76ers want to stop their momentum, they'll have to accomplish something even the eventual league champions couldn't last postseason.
The Hawks will look to continue their strong defense of the Philips Arena court when they play their home opener on Saturday night, with the 76ers in town trying to build on their first victory of the season.
The Boston Celtics may have figured to roll past the eighth-seeded Hawks in the first round of last season's playoffs, but Atlanta hung with the 66-win Celtics, taking them to a decisive Game 7 before bowing out.
While the Hawks (1-0) couldn't win in Boston, they beat the Celtics all three times in Atlanta, averaging more than 100 points and shooting 48 percent from the field at home against Boston's vaunted defense. Including the postseason, they went 28-16 at home in 2007-08.
"Atlanta was an unbelievable place to play in the playoffs," forward Marvin Williams said. "Hopefully we can get more regular-season games like that."
The Hawks answered concerns about their road performance Wednesday, traveling to Orlando for a 99-85 win in their season opener. Joe Johnson led the way with 25 points and Josh Smith added 17 and 10 rebounds as the Hawks held the defending Southeast Division champion Magic to 37 percent shooting.
"Atlanta played a lot harder," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They played like they really, really wanted to win it."
In capturing their first road opener since 1997-98, the Hawks led by 19 after three quarters and outrebounded the Magic 53-45 for the game.
It's been nearly 10 years since the Hawks last won back-to-back games to start the season, opening the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign with a pair of victories en route to a 31-19 season.
They're hoping the return of Williams will help them end that drought. Williams, who set career highs by averaging 14.8 points and 5.7 rebounds last season, was suspended for the opener for committing a flagrant foul in the Hawks' final playoff game against Boston.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, hopes it will be boosted by Friday's win, 116-87 over the New York Knicks on the same day the Phillies' World Series parade had the city buzzing.
Entering the season with high hopes after the surprising acquisition of forward Elton Brand, the Sixers (1-1) were disappointed with their 95-84 home loss to Toronto in their opener on Wednesday. But after Brand shot 5-of-14 from the field in that game, he bounced back with 24 points and 14 rebounds in just 31 minutes Friday, including 18 first-half points.
Andre Miller added 20 points and eight assists while Willie Green had 18 points off the bench, but Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks was more excited about the team's performance at the other end of the floor. Philadelphia held the Knicks to 33 percent shooting and dominated the boards, outrebounding them 61-43.
"That game was won based on our defense," Cheeks said. "We set the tone early on defense and scored off their misses."
While the Sixers earned a win at Atlanta last season - a 109-104 victory on April 4 - that was their only victory in four games against the Hawks.