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First-place Hawks are winning without Joe Johnson

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First-place Hawks are winning without Joe Johnson

ATLANTA (AP) The widely held assumption was the Hawks would take a step back this season after first-year general manager Danny Ferry cleared salary space for the future by trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams.

Look again.

With one quarter of the season gone, the Hawks rank as one of the NBA's biggest surprises.

Atlanta has won 11 of 13 games to move into a first-place tie with defending NBA champion Miami in the Southeast Division.

Al Horford said he isn't about to rebuke those who predicted the team would wilt without Johnson, a six-time All-Star. The Hawks' center said even Atlanta players had concerns a streak of five straight playoff seasons would be in jeopardy.

``That was one of the questions that even people in here, we were questioning ourselves,'' Horford said, looking around the Hawks' locker room. ``What was it going to be like? We didn't know what was going to happen.''

Coach Larry Drew's undersized Hawks are winning with defense and improved passing.

Undersized? Devin Harris, acquired for Marvin Williams, and free-agent signee Lou Williams joined point guard Jeff Teague in the backcourt.

Instead of having the 6-foot-7 Johnson at shooting guard and 6-foot-9 Marvin Williams at small forward, the Hawks often have two or even three players on the perimeter who are 6-foot-2 or shorter.

Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap noted the three guards give Drew's Hawks unusually strong direction and ball movement.

``He's loaded with quarterbacks,'' Dunlap said. ``And now he can play them at the wings. So that ball's going to move because they know how to move it and they know how to play the pick and roll.

``Their personnel department made a decision to go in and get some really good quarterbacks and that's rare in this league. You need two to back each other up at (point guard). But he's using them in a diverse way, so that's what makes it hard to play Atlanta.''

Ferry said he's not surprised to see three small point guards working together so well.

``I felt like it would work, that part of it, that offensively we would be able to do things off the dribble and spread the ball around because of having those three guys,'' Ferry said. ``Defensively, collectively the group has done a good job and that obviously has given us a better chance of getting off to the kind of start we've had. Now we have to sustain it and we have to keep getting better.''

Atlanta ranks fifth in the league with 22.8 assists and third with 9.3 steals per game. Defense is another strength as the Hawks rank fifth with 93.1 points allowed per game.

``We feel very excited where we're at as a team right now,'' Horford said. ``I think we've come together faster than we all expected. I just think there's an understanding we have a lot of work ahead and we can still get better.''

The Hawks beat Dunlap's Bobcats 113-90 on Thursday night as Harris scored a season-high 20 points. Lou Williams ranks third on the team with 13.8 points per game. Teague is averaging 13.3 points and a team-leading 6.3 assists.

Horford and Josh Smith are the new scoring leaders. Smith leads the team with 17.3 points. Horford is averaging a double-double with 16.3 points and 10 rebounds.

``I think we complement each other real well,'' Horford said. ``I think Josh is an unselfish player. I'm an unselfish player as well. I think we just want to win. I really want to win in the worst way and we're making it work with the team.''

Smith can be a free agent after the season. Ferry would not say if he hoped to negotiate with Smith before the end of the season.

``As I've said, we value Josh,'' Ferry said. ``Having players in your program like Josh is a positive thing. I'm not going to talk about negotiations.''

Johnson had four years and $90 million remaining on his contract when he was traded to the Nets for five players - none with long-term contracts - and a draft pick in July. Ferry then traded Marvin Williams to the Jazz for Harris, freeing another $15.7 million over two years.

Ferry also acquired 3-point specialist Kyle Korver from the Chicago Bulls for a trade exception and cash.

Atlanta waived two of the players it received for Johnson - forward Jordan Williams and Jordan Farmar- before training camp. The Hawks also obtained guards Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson and center Johan Petro, who has played only 11 minutes, in the trade.

Stevenson, 31, has started 11 games. At 6-5, he provides needed size and has been one of team's best 3-point shooters.

``Wins and losses, I'm very happy with where we are,'' Drew said. ``I thought this first quarter of the season we came together pretty well.''

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Fans, Redskins pay tribute to longtime NBC Sports Washington reporter Rich Tandler

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NBC Sports Washington

Fans, Redskins pay tribute to longtime NBC Sports Washington reporter Rich Tandler

NBC Sports Washington lost an important piece of its family this week when longtime Redskins reporter Rich Tandler died on Tuesday. He was 63.

Tandler joined NBC Sports Washington in 2011. He began his writing career in his 40s after working in restaurants and created his blog, Real Redskins, in 2004, which became the longest-running blog on the team. He also wrote three books on the Redskins and posted an estimated 2,300 consecutive “Need To Know” posts, becoming a must-read for Redskins fans as part of their morning routine.

“We’re devastated to learn of the loss of one of our most loved and valued media members, Rich Tandler of NBC Sports Washington,” Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder said in a statement. “His dedication to covering the Redskins over the past 14 years has made him an irreplaceable presence among our media corps, and he will be in our hearts. Our thoughts are with his family, our family at NBC Sports Washington, and the entire Redskins community. He will be truly missed.”

The team will hold a moment of silence for Tandler before its game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and will keep his regular seat on press row empty. On Wednesday, Redskins quarterback Alex Smith offered his “thoughts and prayers to his family.”

“Rich’s kind and warm nature made him a good friend and an especially close colleague to many of us at NBC Sports Washington,” NBC Sports Washington General Manager Damon Phillips said in a statement. “His passion for his work and the Redskins was inspiring and made him a critical part of many of our successes over the past seven years. This is a very big loss for the sports community. Our thoughts are with his family and his many friends.”

Fans, Redskins players, fellow reporters, and friends of Tandler paid tribute to him on social media.

“Incredibly saddened by the sudden passing of NBCSW’s Rich Tandler. He was a great talent and an important voice in the DC sports community. Our thoughts are with his wife @MissSkeetersmom, his family and his family at @NBCSWashington,” Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis wrote on Twitter.

 

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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

Dwight Howard may play in the Wizards' regular-season opener on Thursday night against the Miami Heat, but the team will not know until the day of the game and likely won't announce the decision either way until head coach Scott Brooks addresses the media about two hours before tipoff.

Howard only has three practices under his belt but has made significant progress throughout this week after missing all five of the team's preseason games due to a strain in his piriformis muscle.

Head coach Scott Brooks said Howard has looked good in those three practices but has a lot of missed time to make up for.

"I think he's definitely winded at times, but that's part of it," Brooks said.

Brooks added that Howard is not getting the same lift when jumping that he's used to. Howard, 32, is used to playing above the rim and his vertical leap is an important part of his game.

The Wizards play their first two games at home, the second on Saturday against the Raptors. They then embark on a Western Conference road trip beginning with the Blazers on Monday.

Brooks said Howard will "definitely" make that trip with the team, which gives a good indication of how close he is to returning to game action. When Howard is ready to play will be left up to the team's medical staff.

If Howard does miss time, the Wizards are expected to rely on his backup Ian Mahinmi as the starting center. Jason Smith would then become the No. 2 center on the depth chart, though they could use forwards like Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at the five-spot.

Howard signed a two-year free-agent deal worth $11 million to join the Wizards in July.

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