Gerald Wallace scored 21 points and Charlotte used a near-perfect first quarter to build a big lead and hung to beat the struggling Atlanta Hawks 98-91 on Friday, the Bobcats' franchise record-tying fifth straight victory.

The Bobcats continued their late-season surge under first-year coach Larry Brown that's put them into playoff contention by taking advantage of the bumbling Hawks, who played without benched starter Josh Smith in the second half and lost for the sixth time in eight games.

Al Horford scored 15 points for the Hawks, who fell behind 36-21 after the first quarter and then played without Smith in the second half after he got into an argument with coach Mike Woodson at halftime. Smith had 13 points before his benching.

With Maurice Evans filling in at forward, the Hawks mounted a second-half comeback after their horrible start, getting within 82-80 on Evans' tip-in with 7:48 left. At 88-84, Wallace blocked Ronald Murray's driving layup, leading to Raja Bell's fast-break layup.

Raymond Felton then had a driving layup and a three-point play, the latter giving Charlotte a 95-87 lead with 45 seconds left.

Emeka Okafor added 17 points and 11 rebounds, Felton had 17 points and 10 assists, and Boris Diaw had 13 points and 13 assists as the fifth-year Bobcats matched their longest win streak set late last season _ when they were long out of the postseason picture.

But with Brown making his imprint on the team, the Bobcats were efficient, getting assists on 29 of 41 field goals. Bell, playing despite a sore right shoulder, harassed Hawks top scorer Joe Johnson into 5-of-13 shooting for only 12 points.

The Bobcats, who had been 0-3 against Atlanta this season, played likely their best quarter of the season to start the game _ and statistics showed it was the best in franchise history.

Crisp passing, snappy ball movement and lights-out shooting produced a big lead. The Bobcats had assists on 14 of their 17 field goals, missing just four shots and setting team records for field goals, assists and shooting percentage (81 percent) in a quarter.

Charlotte's only turnover came on a three-second violation in the final minute, and the only foul _ with 9.9 seconds left _ was intentional because the Bobcats had a foul to give.

It certainly wasn't the start Woodson wanted after being upset with the defensive effort in Wednesday's loss at New York. Now he'll have to deal with Smith, who was 6-of-10 and grabbed four rebounds in the first half.

Notes:@ Bobcats F Sean May was inactive again and has played in only two games since Dec. 11 because of Brown's demand that he gets down to 260 pounds. "He's a lot closer," Brown said. "Now the problem is, who do you sit out?" ... Woodson reminisced before the game about working under Brown in Philadelphia and Detroit. Woodson said Brown gives his assistants a lot of responsibility, but also demands a lot. "For me to sit next to a guy who had a great mind for the game, loves teaching, it was huge for me, in terms of my career," Woodson said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.