Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew warned his team to take the Charlotte Bobcats seriously and forget all about their record last season.
It sure looked as if his players were listening.
Al Horford had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Charlotte Bobcats 101-91 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.
Horford called it one of Atlanta's best games of the season.
"They are a lot better this year and it's a division game," he said, "so this was a good win for us."
The Bobcats were an NBA-worst 7-59 last season, but entered Friday night's game winners of five of six to raise their record to 6-4 this year.
Horford was 13 of 17 from the field, helping the Hawks score 50 points in the paint. Kyle Korver hit 4 of 6 3-pointers and finished with 16 points. Jeff Teague added 13 points and 12 assists.
"Jeff did a great job of finding me and getting me easy baskets," Horford said. "He kept finding me time after time and all I had to do was just finish plays."
Horford was particularly effective in the pick and roll.
"We were hedging on the pick and roll and our backside didn't pick him up on his roll, so that is where he hurt us," Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said. "He's a power down there."
Said Drew: "I saw that (Horford) was in a rhythm and wanted to really try to ride him as much as I could."
The Hawks (7-4) led most of the game. The Bobcats got within six in the fourth quarter, but the rally fizzled from there as Horford scored the game's final four points to seal the win.
"I thought my guys did a good job accepting the challenge against a team that certainly is headed in the right direction," Drew said. "I thought we came out in the very beginning and we set the tone about how we wanted to play and what we wanted to do."
Charlotte was led by Ramon Sessions, who had 22 points. Kemba Walker added 16 points and nine assists. Walker and Sessions have scored in double digits every game this season.
Jeffery Taylor, the Bobcats' second-round pick, set a career high for the third straight game with 16 points. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, another rookie starter, had 11 points and seven assists.
Dunlap said he's convinced Taylor is going to be a "very good player," particularly for a team that places so much emphasis on defense.
"For me, the coach is telling me to be aggressive on offense and I'm trying to learn and pick my spots and play off the other guys," Taylor said. "Defense has always come pretty easy to me. I welcome any challenge. It's fun to play defense. I think it's fun to try and stop the other team's best player."
The Bobcats committed 15 turnovers leading to 19 Atlanta points in a sloppy game for both teams. Atlanta turned it over 22 times, leading to 22 points.
"We didn't take enough advantage of those," Dunlap said.
The Hawks built a 57-51 lead at the break behind Horford, who had 16 first-half points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field.
The Bobcats struggled to find anyone who could guard Horford, using four different players in an attempt to shut down the 6-foot-10 center. Horford still found ways to score and the Hawks shot 57.1 percent from the field in the first half.
"I feel like when we play through me a lot of the times it opens up things for other guys as well," Horford said.
Smith had an off night, shooting just 4 of 12 from the field, but contributed a season-high eight assists.
All that mattered to him is the Hawks were able to get a win.
"Anytime you get a win like this you're definitely playing hard," Smith said. "We knew what we were getting ourselves into facing this basketball team. I've been watching games on them and I understood that we had to put our hard hats on to play."
Smith said the Hawks, who have won five of six after a 2-3 start, are starting to put things together as a team after some roster turnover this past offseason.
"We're starting to find ourselves and figure out where our spots are on the floor," he said. "We're playing very unselfish and that's all we can do is keep finding a way to gel and play like a cohesive unit."
Kidd-Gilchrist had a career-high four blocked shots and reached double digits in scoring for the eighth time in nine games. ... It was Teague's second double-double of the season. ... Charlotte dropped to 4-1 in conference play. ... The Bobcats visit Washington on Saturday night, while the Hawks host the Los Angeles Clippers.