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Johnson helps Hawks ground poor-shooting Bobcats

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Charlotte Bobcats' plan was to play small. They had no answer when Atlanta's Joe Johnson stepped up big.

Charlotte couldn't overcome the longest field-goal drought to open an NBA game this season, and began their comeback too late as the Atlanta Hawks beat the Bobcats 99-90 on Wednesday night.

Johnson scored 22 of his season-high 36 points in the second period. It was a dramatic turnaround for Johnson, who missed his first five shots and had only two points in the opening quarter.

"I was just taking pretty much what the defense gave me," Johnson said. "I just got into a rhythm where I just started feeling it. They gave me a lot of jump shots. They took away the 3 and I was trying to drive the paint, get the easy shots."

Said Atlanta's Josh Smith: "He couldn't miss."

Even though his team was coming off an impressive 96-92 win at New Jersey on Tuesday night, Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff tweaked his starting lineup to play small -- starting guard Raymond Felton instead of center Primoz Brezec.

The change didn't provide the early spark Bickerstaff wanted. The Bobcats were 0-for-13 from the field before a jumper by Sean May with 4:07 left in the period.

Much of Johnson's early scoring came at the expense of Bobcats rookie Adam Morrison, who often was a step behind as he chased the Hawks veteran around the court. Johnson was 9-of-10 from the field, making all of his three 3-pointers, in the second period.

"There was nothing I could really do except try to make him miss, and that didn't work," Morrison said. "That's why he's an All-Star caliber player. He showed tonight he's definitely a star in this league, a superstar."

Johnson is averaging 27.8 points per game.

Morrison, who had scored more than 20 points in three of the last four games, was held to six points, 10 below his average.

The Hawks took a 20-point lead late in the first half and stretched the advantage to 70-46 early in the third quarter.

Charlotte cut the lead to 83-72 at the end of third period. A key was Bickerstaff assigning veteran Derek Anderson to defend Johnson. Anderson, who signed on Tuesday, was making his first appearance with the team.

The Bobcats pulled within 91-88 before a basket by Johnson sparked the Hawks' answer. Tyronn Lue, who had 25 points, had two baskets in the final 2 minutes for Atlanta.

Johnson was the star of the game, but the first words from Hawks coach Mike Woodson were: "Thank God for Tyronn Lue."

"He gives it everything he's got every night he steps on the floor," Woodson said. "He's an ultimate pro, man. He takes his job very seriously and the results are right there in front of you. His teammates love playing with him. I gotta get a few more guys playing like Tyronn."

Johnson was largely responsible for building Atlanta's lead, but Lue's 10 fourth-quarter points helped turn back Charlotte's comeback.

"From about 8 minutes left in the third quarter through the end we fought back, we showed we are not going to quit," said Charlotte's Brevin Knight, who scored 17 points.

Bickerstaff said his lineup change was not made for specific matchups against Atlanta, but Woodson was forced to adjust.

At one point in the opening quarter, Woodson played three small guards -- Lue, Speedy Claxton, and Salim Stoudamire -- together to counter Charlotte's trio of Felton, Brevin Knight and Matt Carroll.

Felton and May each had 21 to lead Charlotte. May, who had 20 points in Charlotte's win at New Jersey on Tuesday night, set his career high for the second straight game.

Atlanta was without two top backups. Center Lorenzen Wright was with his wife, who gave birth this week. Guard-forward Josh Childress (sore knee) missed his sixth straight game.

Game notes
Before Charlotte's 0-for-13 start, two teams shared the longest field-goal drought to open a game this season at 0-for-9: Atlanta at Orlando on Saturday and Portland at Minnesota on Nov. 14. ... Johnson's career scoring high is 42 points against Golden State on March 7 last season.