Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 12/28/11
ATLANTA -- It's only two games into the season and the competition has been anything but stellar. Nonetheless, the early returns on the Atlanta Hawks are a sign that they might be better than observers thought in particular because of the inspired play of one starter. With the help of a rejuvenated Marvin Williams and his 17 points and 8 rebounds, the Hawks breezed past winless Washington 101-83 in their home opener at Philips Arena to jump out to a 2-0 start. After the game, Hawks coach Larry Drew seemed nearly disappointed that his team didn't show a killer instinct, especially with defensive lapses at times. The Hawks led by as much as 23 in the third quarter, but Washington cut that to 12 with 4:24 left in regulation before the Hawks put the game away. "A win is a win," Drew said. "They're not all going to be pretty, which I told the guys after the game. But we're looking to be a team that is mentioned in the same breath of some of these other teams and in order to do that we need to be consistent on both ends of the floor night in and night out." With Orlando seemingly in decline, the Hawks might be able to improve upon their third-place finish of last season in the Southeast Division and .537 winning percentage. For the second straight night, the Hawks jumped out to an early lead. On Tuesday in their season opener at New Jersey, it was 11-2 en route to a 106-70 victory. On Wednesday, it was 11-0 and then 19-4 as Joe Johnson (18 points) hit three-pointers on three out of four possessions. The Wizards (0-2) twice pulled within a basket midway through the second quarter, but by halftime the Hawks pushed the lead back to 13. Williams was instrumental in re-establishing the lead. He had an aggressive offensive rebound and power move from the paint to make it 51-42 and then two free throws with 21.9 seconds left to push it to 55-42. At the break, he led all Hawks scorers with 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting and also had six rebounds. He finished 4-of-8 and 2-for-3 on three-pointers. Last season Williams only hit double figures in 33 games, as he started 52 and played in 65 because of a knee injury and also because of a bad back. He averaged 10.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, falling somewhat gradually from a career high of 14.8 points per game in 2007-08. He said the back injury had been particularly debilitating over the last few seasons. In the offseason, he underwent back surgery and since camp began, some observers have said he looks like a new man. In just 22 minutes in the opener, he posted 14 points and nine rebounds. Drew said that at times last season Williams would catch the ball and not even look at the rim to shoot. So far, Drew said he has seen a renewed aggressiveness in the former second overall pick. "Hopefully, knock on wood, it looks like he's a little pain-free from the back and the surgery," Drew said. "He's really shooting the ball really well when he gets his feet set. Certainly, teams that are going to double-team us in the low block we have to be able to stretch the defense out and have three-point shooters out there. "And I'm happy that he's being aggressive and looking for his shot. He's doing a good job defensively, as well." Williams said the surgery was a discectomy, which is a procedure to remove herniated disc material that is pressing on a nerve or the spinal cord, according to WebMD.com. In his case, he said the disc was pressing into a nerve that would cause his leg to tingle and go numb. He had the surgery on June 8 and did not play for three months. He said the lockout proved a "blessing for me." "I feel much better out there, as opposed to last year," Williams said. "I had a good summer, got my body in better shape. Now I feel pretty good out there. Now I don't feel anything at all." Williams said back-to-back situations like Wednesday's were especially difficult for him physically in the past. "When Marvin plays like that, we're this much better," Horford said. " I think he's being more aggressive on the offensive boards and we need that from him at his position to get rebounds like that." In a brutal early season in which the Hawks will play 12 games in 16 days, the two wins with their wide margins have given Drew the luxury of playing his newly stocked bench to rest his starters. It could be the foundation for surviving the coming gauntlet. Last season, this was a team that lost by alarmingly large margins on occasion at home and to some bewildering opponents. The Hawks were hot and cold and have never seemed like the kind of team that could turn it on and off when it wanted to. But maybe something has changed. They did exactly that in the postseason in 2011. Shambling into the playoffs, they upset the Eastern Conference's No. 4 seed, Orlando, when few expected they would do just that. Then they gave top-seeded Chicago a much tougher six-game series than expected. In a shortened season with a healthy Williams, maybe the Hawks could surprise in a different way this season.
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