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Atlanta laughs at elimination

Once again, Atlanta wasted no time building a double-figure lead over the Hornets. This time, the Hawks didn't blow it.

They made history instead.

Playing with energy and emotion that was missing their first two games, the Hawks avoided elimination in the first round and routed Charlotte 96-64. The Hornets matched the lowest-scoring playoff game in history.

Charlotte, leading the best-of-five series 2-1, tied the record for fewest points set by Portland in a 1996 post-season game at Utah and equaled by Orlando against Miami last year.

The Hawks, led by Mookie Blaylock with 16 points and Steve Smith with 15, had their largest playoff victory since the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1968. The record was a 23-point rout of Indiana in 1994.

Game 4 is Friday night at the Georgia Dome. If the Hawks win again, the deciding game is Sunday at Charlotte.

Off the court, Atlanta's Steve Smith, who donated $2.5-million to Michigan State, his alma mater, was chosen as winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.

Pistons stay with Gentry

DETROIT _ The Pistons took the interim from Alvin Gentry's coaching role. Gentry took over the Pistons after Doug Collins was fired Feb. 2. Detroit went 16-21 under Gentry, including victories over playoff teams Chicago, Indiana, Miami, San Antonio and Atlanta.

The Pistons were expected to offer Gentry at least $1-million a season for two years with an option for a third.

He became a front-runner for the coaching job after receiving the backing of Grant Hill and Joe Dumars late in the season.

Gentry met Monday with team owner Bill Davidson and vice president of basketball operations Rick Sund.

"I think it's an incredible honor for me," Gentry said. "After what happened last year and the close losses we had down the stretch, I think not only am I ready, I think the players are ready to come back and to show all the close games that we lost we'll have an opportunity to win those things."

"I support Alvin wholeheartedly," said Dumars, the 35-year-old captain.

Three years ago, Gentry finished the season as Miami's coach after the Heat fired Kevin Loughery. He guided the Heat to a 15-21 record over the final 36 games of the 1994-95 season but was not offered the job at season's end. He joined the Pistons as an assistant for the 1995-96 season.

"This is a very, very happy day for me. There's so many guys that spend an eternity in basketball and never have an opportunity like this," Gentry said. "This is one of only 29 jobs in the world like this."

CAVS: Pressures of paternity and child-support obligations, not alcohol, were to blame for Shawn Kemp's problems with the Sonics last year, Sports Illustrated reported this week.

In a story on professional athletes fathering children out of wedlock, the magazine reported that paternity-related issues weighed heavily on Kemp.

The unmarried Kemp, who is with Cleveland, has fathered seven children, Gerald Phillips, a lawyer who represented Kemp in a paternity suit filed by Charlotte Osuna, told Sports Illustrated.

At a news conference before the playoffs last year, Kemp denied reports he had a drinking problem, blaming his behavior on unspecified "personal problems."

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