ATLANTA — Dwight Howard was everything the Hawks were hoping for in his hometown debut.
Tim Hardaway Jr. in a starring role?
That was a major surprise.
Hardaway scored 21 points and ignited a fourth-quarter outburst that carried new-look Atlanta to a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards in the season opener Thursday night.
Howard, who returned to the city where he grew up in the Hawks' biggest offseason move, did nothing to disappoint. He grabbed 19 rebounds — more than anyone had for Atlanta all of last season — and was a huge presence at the defensive end, disrupting shots and giving his teammates the freedom to be more aggressive on the perimeter.
"The worst thing you can do is lay an egg in the first game," said Howard, who also had 11 points and three blocks. "I think all of us were a little nervous in the first half because we want to do so well. We really want put on for this city. ... Once we kind of settled in, kind of got our feet wet, we took it to another level."
Paul Millsap, for one, didn't have to spend so much time banging on the boards. He took advantage at the offensive end, leading the Hawks with 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting.
But Hardaway was the one who really came up big, which was totally unexpected given that he was largely confined to the bench and even spent time in the D-League during his first season with the Hawks.
"It's definitely a new page, a new start," Hardaway said. "But (last season) will always be the intro to me in Atlanta. That will always be in the back of my head, how they pushed me, how they got me prepared to get to this point in my career."
Hardaway scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers that helped Atlanta pull away, and wound up matching his best showing in a Hawks uniform. Thabo Sefolosha was another key contributor off the bench, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the third quarter.
The Hawks, who led only 81-80 heading to the final period, outscored the Wizards 33-19 over the final 12 minutes.
Markieff Morris led Washington with 22 points, but it was a tough night for the Wizards' dynamic backcourt duo. John Wall finished with only 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting, while Bradley Beal was held to 13 in the debut for new Washington coach Scott Brooks.
"We got a lot of good looks. Some went down, some didn't," Beal said. "But at the end of the day, we can't control our offense. We can control our defense and our effort. We just gave up the last quarter and a half."
Wizards: Marcin Gortat had 11 rebounds but didn't have much help. Washington was outrebounded 52-40. ... Otto Porter was the only other Washington player in double figures with 10 points. ... The Wizards locked arms during the national anthem.
Hawks: Howard posted the most rebounds for anyone in their Atlanta debut, breaking the mark of 18 that Shareef Abdur-Rahim set at Houston on Oct. 30, 2001. ... Dennis Schroder, taking over as the starting point guard after the trade of Jeff Teague, had 14 points but only two assists.
After deciding not to pursue a coaching job last season, Brooks was back on an NBA sideline with the Wizards.
He spent six-plus seasons guiding the Oklahoma City Thunder before he was fired in 2015 after the team failed to make the playoffs.
Atlanta's Kent Bazemore was called for a flagrant foul early in the third quarter when he got underneath Wall as the Washington star went in for a breakaway dunk, sending him tumbling to the court.
Wall hopped up, looking to go after Bazemore, but several players stepped in before something more serious could develop.
Bazemore said he didn't mean to make contact with Wall.
"I don't play the game that way," Bazemore said. "It was just an unfortunate play. We hugged and made up after that."
Wizards: Play at Memphis on Sunday, facing a Grizzlies team that began the season with a 102-98 victory over Minnesota.
Hawks: Travel to Philadelphia on Saturday to take on the 76ers, who went 10-72 last season and opened with a loss to Oklahoma City.