Hawks tip off season in New Jersey

The Atlanta Hawks finally get their season underway when they visit North Jersey to take on the Nets at Prudential Center.

During the regular season Atlanta took a significant step backwards under first year coach Larry Drew, falling from 53 wins in 2009-10 to just 44. But if you take the postseason into account, things start looking a little bit rosier for Drew.

A year after Dwight Howard and Orlando jettisoned Atlanta out of the playoffs, recording the largest victory margin in a four-game sweep in NBA playoff history in the process, the Hawks at least solved the Magic in the East quarterfinals before bowing out to top-seeded Chicago.

It was the fourth straight trip to the postseason for the Hawks and the third consecutive time Atlanta checked out in the second round, meaning the real answer as to where the team stands is probably not drive or reverse -- it's neutral.

Drew will again have a solid, athletic core at his disposal led by All-Star big man Al Horford, shooting guard Joe Johnson, the always dynamic Josh Smith and emerging point guard Jeff Teague.

The team's big change last season was giving up on veteran point Mike Bibby, a player whose gas tank is nearing empty, and handing the team over to Kirk Hinrich.

Hinrich, however, injured his hamstring against the Magic in the playoffs and also underwent offseason shoulder surgery. The ultra-quick Teague took advantage of Hinrich's bad luck and had a bit of a coming out party against Derrick Rose and the Bulls.

This season, seven-time All-Star Tracy McGrady replaces high-scoring sixth man Jamal Crawford, who found a new home in Portland.

Hinrich, meanwhile, will not be ready for the start of the regular season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

The Nets got the 2011-12 truncated season off to a good start with Monday's 90-84 victory over the Washington Wizards on the road. They are playing six of their first eight games away from home, but will be in front of the friendly faithful Tuesday evening.

Deron Williams scored 23 points and Kris Humphries added 21 and 16 rebounds for the Nets, who overcame a slow start to erase a 21-point deficit. Williams also had eight assists and eight rebounds in come-from-behind win.

"I think this is a sign we're a little more mature this year," said Brandon Morrow, who scored 16 points. "We're just [stronger] mentally."

New Jersey is without center Brook Lopez, who is expected to miss four to six weeks because of a fractured right foot. Humphries is expected to carry a bigger work load until Lopez returns and ignored a bevy of boos and taunts in Washington last night, largely because of his quick marriage to reality television queen Kim Kardashian.

These two teams split a four-game season series a year ago, but Atlanta has won six of eight overall against the Nets. The Hawks have dropped two straight, seven of eight and 16 of their last 18 games in New Jersey.