Al Horford lay on the floor in pain after injuring his shoulder during Wednesday loss to the Pacers.
ATLANTA — Before the Atlanta Hawks took the court, Joe Johnson whispered a message to teammates Josh Smith and Jeff Teague.
"We have to take ownership," Johnson said, "at both ends of the court."
Clearly, they were listening.
Smith scored 30 points, Johnson added 23 and Teague chipped in with 16, leading the Hawks to a 111-81 rout of the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night in Atlanta's first game without All-Star center Al Horford.
Horford sidelined for up to four months, may need surgery
ATLANTA — Atlanta Hawks All-Star center Al Horford will miss at least three months with a shoulder injury, a major blow to a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
The team announced Thursday that Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in the first quarter of Wednesday night's game at Indiana. The injury will likely require surgery, stunning a team that has made the playoffs four years in a row and is off to a solid start with wins over Miami and Chicago in the early going.
"I did hear something kind of pop a little bit, so I thought it was something different," said Horford, who wrenched his shoulder while battling for a rebound with Roy Hibbert. "I'm still surprised. I thought I was going to be able to rehab it for a couple of weeks and come back."
Horford, a two-time All-Star, could be out as long as four months, which would take his rehab deep into the playoffs — should the Hawks make it that far. He will get a second opinion before making the final decision to undergo surgery, but even the most optimistic projection would keep him out until mid-April.
The Hawks final regular-season game is April 26.
"He's going to certainly be missed," coach Larry Drew said. "We were starting to mesh. We were starting to jell. I'm hoping our guys will rally around one another."
Horford was injured with 6:08 remaining in the first quarter of Wednesday's game. He was averaging 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks to go along with the NBA's eighth-best shooting percentage (.553).
The 25-year-old is a bit undersized for the center position (6-foot-10, 245 pounds) but he quickly emerged as perhaps the most valuable Atlanta player after being picked third overall in the 2007 draft. His loss leaves the Hawks with a huge hole on the inside, plus some much-needed leadership in the locker room. Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins are the other centers on the roster, neither of whom is likely to come close to matching Horford's production.
"The talent is huge," Drew said. "But the leadership and the presence, he's the glue for us."
Horford isn't the only injured player on the banged-up Hawks, just the most serious. Marvin Williams (ankle) and Tracy McGrady (back) didn't dress for Thursday night's game against Charlotte.
Now, the focus is clearly on Joe Johnson and Josh Smith to carry the Hawks.
"Guys are going to have to pick up the slack," Horford said. "The guys are going to have to raise their games. It starts with Josh and Joe."
Johnson, who is leading the Hawks with 16.7 points a game, is ready to take on more of a load but said he can't do it himself.
"We can't worry about who we have out on the court, we've just got to go out there and play," Johnson said. "Not only I have to step up, but the whole locker room. Our big guys have to step up to fill that void of losing Al."
Smith said he'll miss working with Horford on the inside.
"That's a big void," Smith said. "Me and him are like the bash brothers down there in the paint. It definitely, definitely, definitely was very disappointing."
But no one is giving up on making the playoffs. When Smith was asked if the Hawks were capable of making another trip to the postseason without their All-Star center, he quickly replied:
"Yeah. Most definitely."
The Hawks learned earlier in the day that Horford, a leader on and off the court, will miss at least three months after tearing the pectoral muscle in his left shoulder going for a rebound the previous night at Indiana. That ensures he will miss nearly all the remaining regular-season games and perhaps be out into the playoffs — if Atlanta makes it that far.
"That was very disappointing news," Smith said. "I actually heard it on the radio on the way to the game. It's real devastating."
But the Hawks must carry on, and they'll be relying heavily on Smith and Johnson. Both came through big time against the hapless Bobcats, who lost their fifth in a row and dropped to 2-9. So did Teague, a young point guard getting big minutes while Kirk Hinrich recovers from his own shoulder surgery.
"We all understand that we have to step our games up in some respect," Johnson said. "It was a great team effort, collectively, around the room. Everybody stepped up and did something to make an impact on the game. We're going to need that from here on out."
Smith made 14 of 22 shots and pulled down 13 rebounds, leading the Hawks to a dominating 55-30 edge on the boards. A player of immense talent but sometimes baffling decisions, he's paced the team's scoring in five straight games and maybe — finally — is on the verge of reaching his enormous potential.
"He's playing big every night, it seems like," Johnson said. "He's got an edge, a chip on his shoulder."
Byron Mullens led the Bobcats with 21 points in his first career start. That was about the only bright spot for Charlotte.
"We're just kind of giving up now," coach Paul Silas moaned.
Charlotte never led in the game, and the Hawks steadily pulled away from a 19-all tie late in the first quarter. Teague hit a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left in the opening half, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 57-47 edge.
The Bobcats never seriously threatened the rest of the way. After Gerald Henderson swished a jumper to make it 59-51, the Hawks led by double figures the rest of the way.
Even without Horford, described by Smith as "my bash brother," the Hawks dominated the boards to improve to 8-4. Most telling was the commanding 20-4 edge at the offensive end, setting up Atlanta for 22 second-chance points. The Bobcats had just six.
"They just beat us down," Silas said. "They almost got as many offensive rebounds as we got total rebounds. That's difficult to accept."
Zaza Pachulia joined Smith with a double-double, scoring 10 points to go along with 10 rebounds starting in place of Horford. Everyone, in fact, got in on the act. Vladimir Radmanovic had eight boards, Joe Johnson and reserve Ivan Johnson chipped in with seven apiece.
Nothing went right for the Bobcats, who didn't have anyone with more than six rebounds and shot just 1 of 8 from 3-point range. The Hawks had their biggest lead at the end, after both teams cleared their benches. Thirty-seven-year-old Jerry Stackhouse even had a rim-hanging dunk in the final minute, leading to chants of "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" from what remained of the sparse crowd generously listed at 10,597.
Everyone got a chance, especially with the Hawks missing four members of their expected playing rotation. Starting forward Marvin Williams and top reserve Tracy McGrady were also out.
"If we can just maintain until some of the other guys get back in there," Smith said, "I think we'll be OK."
The Hawks had a total of six players in double figures: Ivan Johnson scored 12 and Willie Green 11. By comparison, Henderson, with 16, was the only other player with at least 10 points for Charlotte.
"Once we decide it means something to us, we'll get better," Henderson said. "That's a hard-working team that we played against, and they beat us by 30."
Notes: McGrady (back spasms) missed his second straight game, Williams (sprained left ankle) his third in a row. ... Corey Maggette (left hamstring strain) didn't travel with the Hornets. ... Ivan Johnson got his money's worth during less than 21 minutes on the court. He took nine shots, got to the foul line for five attempts, worked hard on the boards and fouled out late in the game. He's beginning to make an impression on the rest of the team. "He's just a tough guy who plays hard and has a nose for the basketball," Smith said. "That's exactly what we need." ... Joe Johnson led the Hawks with eight assists.