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The Atlanta Hawks at the Quarter Turn

John Boller@jboll0327Correspondent IDecember 7, 2009

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 02:  Mike Bibby #10 of the Atlanta Hawks against Jose Calderon #8 the Toronto Raptors at Philips Arena on December 2, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks have played a quarter of their season and find themselves at 14-6 overall.

This pace has the Hawks on their way to 57 wins, which would be 10 more than last season.

The Hawks are just two games behind the Orlando Magic for the lead in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.

The 14-6 mark after the first 20 games is good for fourth-best in the Eastern Conference, and they have a three-game lead over the fifth-place Miami Heat.

This time last year after 20 games, the Hawks were 12-8 and just 5-7 on the road.

That 5-7 record turned into a dismal 16-25 record on the road overall last year.

Fast-forward to this year, and the Hawks are 6-4 thus far when playing away from Philips Arena.

Head coach Mike Woodson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday that he wants to see the team finish the season at least with an even record on the road.

He also added that he feels satisfied with the team’s performance on the road at the quarter turn.

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Atlanta was tested early on the road with a three-game road trip out West at the beginning of November.

It started with an eight-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers to give the Hawks their first loss of the season.

Atlanta quickly rebounded and won back-to-back games on the road at Portland and at Sacramento.

The Hawks continued to look good on the road in the following week by beating the Knicks at New York, then the Celtics by 11 in Boston.

While Atlanta was holding their own on the road, they were playing flawlessly at the Highlight Factory.

The Hawks won their first seven home games of the season.

Unfortunately, their first loss came on Thanksgiving to division foe Orlando Magic.

However, Atlanta licked their wounds and continued to play exceptional basketball.

The most recent victory on the road against Dallas, showed just how far this time has come on the defensive end since being swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round last year.

They held the Mavericks to just 75 points at the American Airlines Center.

It was the Mavericks’ lowest point total in Dallas since 2006, when they only got 71 points against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Hawks also forced the NBA’s third-best ball-handling team to commit 16 turnovers.

The 75 points is the least amount of points that the Hawks allowed in their first 20 games.

Joe Johnson continues to be the Hawks’ main scoring threat and is averaging 21.5 points per game.

Atlanta’s new addition, Jamal Crawford, is providing the Hawks with a scoring threat off the bench, and his 16.1 points per game is second best on the team.

But the bigger story is the improved play of power forward Josh Smith.

Smith is on pace to set career-highs in five different categories, including leading the NBA in blocks.

His 2.6 blocks per game, 15.5 points per game, 3.6 assists per game, 8.6 rebounds per game, and 53 percent shooting from the field are all better than his career averages.

Smith, now in his sixth year in the NBA, is also hoping to make his first NBA All-Star team and hopes to be named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team at the end of the year.

Al Horford is also becoming a dominant big man in just his third season in the NBA. His 13.6 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game are career-highs for him.

His field-goal and free-throw percentages are also on pace to be career highs.

And just like a true dominant big man, Horford is sixth in the NBA with 10 double-doubles so far.

The Hawks have wanted to take it to the next level over the past few years.

After an unforgettable seven-game first-round series matchup against the Celtics two years ago, Atlanta followed it up with a trip to the second round for the first time in a decade.

After their first 20 games, it looks like the Hawks are continuing to move forward and are proving that the Eastern Conference has more than just three elite teams.

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