ATLANTA — Before the Atlanta Hawks took the court, Joe Johnson whispered a message to teammates Josh Smith and Jeff Teague.
"We have to take ownership," Johnson said, "at both ends of the court."
Clearly, they were listening.
Smith scored 30 points, Johnson added 23 and Teague chipped in with 16, leading the Hawks to a 111-81 rout of the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night in Atlanta's first game without All-Star center Al Horford.
The Hawks learned earlier in the day that Horford, a leader on and off the court, will miss at least three months after tearing the pectoral muscle in his left shoulder going for a rebound the previous night at Indiana. That ensures he will miss nearly all the remaining regular-season games and perhaps be out into the playoffs — if Atlanta makes it that far.
"That was very disappointing news," Smith said. "I actually heard it on the radio on the way to the game. It's real devastating."
But the Hawks must carry on, and they'll be relying heavily on Smith and Johnson. Both came through big time against the hapless Bobcats, who lost their fifth in a row and dropped to 2-9. So did Teague, a young point guard getting big minutes while Kirk Hinrich recovers from his own shoulder surgery.
"We all understand that we have to step our games up in some respect," Johnson said. "It was a great team effort, collectively, around the room. Everybody stepped up and did something to make an impact on the game. We're going to need that from here on out."
Smith made 14 of 22 shots and pulled down 13 rebounds, leading the Hawks to a dominating 55-30 edge on the boards. A player of immense talent but sometimes baffling decisions, he's paced the team's scoring in five straight games and maybe — finally — is on the verge of reaching his enormous potential.
"He's playing big every night, it seems like," Johnson said. "He's got an edge, a chip on his shoulder."
Byron Mullens led the Bobcats with 21 points in his first career start. That was about the only bright spot for Charlotte.
"We're just kind of giving up now," coach Paul Silas moaned.
Charlotte never led in the game, and the Hawks steadily pulled away from a 19-all tie late in the first quarter. Teague hit a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left in the opening half, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 57-47 edge.
The Bobcats never seriously threatened the rest of the way. After Gerald Henderson swished a jumper to make it 59-51, the Hawks led by double figures the rest of the way.
Even without Horford, described by Smith as "my bash brother," the Hawks dominated the boards to improve to 8-4. Most telling was the commanding 20-4 edge at the offensive end, setting up Atlanta for 22 second-chance points. The Bobcats had just six.
"They just beat us down," Silas said. "They almost got as many offensive rebounds as we got total rebounds. That's difficult to accept."
Zaza Pachulia joined Smith with a double-double, scoring 10 points to go along with 10 rebounds starting in place of Horford. Everyone, in fact, got in on the act. Vladimir Radmanovic had eight boards, Joe Johnson and reserve Ivan Johnson chipped in with seven apiece.
Nothing went right for the Bobcats, who didn't have anyone with more than six rebounds and shot just 1 of 8 from 3-point range. The Hawks had their biggest lead at the end, after both teams cleared their benches. Thirty-seven-year-old Jerry Stackhouse even had a rim-hanging dunk in the final minute, leading to chants of "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" from what remained of the sparse crowd generously listed at 10,597.
Everyone got a chance, especially with the Hawks missing four members of their expected playing rotation. Starting forward Marvin Williams and top reserve Tracy McGrady were also out.
"If we can just maintain until some of the other guys get back in there," Smith said, "I think we'll be OK."
The Hawks had a total of six players in double figures: Ivan Johnson scored 12 and Willie Green 11. By comparison, Henderson, with 16, was the only other player with at least 10 points for Charlotte.
"Once we decide it means something to us, we'll get better," Henderson said. "That's a hard-working team that we played against, and they beat us by 30."
Notes: McGrady (back spasms) missed his second straight game, Williams (sprained left ankle) his third in a row. ... Corey Maggette (left hamstring strain) didn't travel with the Hornets. ... Ivan Johnson got his money's worth during less than 21 minutes on the court. He took nine shots, got to the foul line for five attempts, worked hard on the boards and fouled out late in the game. He's beginning to make an impression on the rest of the team. "He's just a tough guy who plays hard and has a nose for the basketball," Smith said. "That's exactly what we need." ... Joe Johnson led the Hawks with eight assists.