Smith seeks a similar start to March on Monday night as the visiting Hawks look to beat the Bulls for the third time in four meetings.
Johnson again leads the Hawks in scoring (21.9 points per game), Horford is their top rebounder (9.4 per game) and Jamal Crawford(notes) (17.2 ppg) is a leading candidate for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year honors, but perhaps no player is as vital to Atlanta’s success as Smith.
The Hawks (37-21) are 22-8 when Smith scores at least 16 points. He averaged 18.6 points and 10.0 rebounds in February - the first month of his career in which he averaged a double-double - to go with 5.4 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
Smith had 22 points, 15 boards and six assists Sunday and Johnson scored 24 in a 106-102 overtime win over Milwaukee, snapping the Bucks’ six-game winning streak.
The Bulls (31-28) don’t need any reminder of Smith’s all-around skills after witnessing them in full force Feb. 5. A day after finding out he failed to make the All-Star team, Smith had 18 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists - his second career triple-double - and led Atlanta to a 91-81 win.
“Josh has probably been our MVP,” coach Mike Woodson said at the time. “I just wish he would’ve made that All-Star team because he has played like an All-Star this year for us. Everything that we have done from a team standpoint in terms of winning and losing has a great deal to do with the way he has played on both ends of the floor.”
Smith scored 18 points in a win during the Bulls’ other visit to Atlanta, but didn’t fare as well Dec. 19 at the United Center. Smith shot just 2 of 12 and Chicago won 101-98 in overtime despite Johnson’s scoring 40.
“We had another thrilling game in Chicago where lost in overtime, so we know it’s going to be a big challenge up there,” Horford said.
Rose has been on a tear since the All-Star break as well, averaging 24.6 points and leading Chicago to a 6-2 record as it tries to solidify its spot in the playoff mix.
The reigning Rookie of the Year had 33 points in an overtime victory over Portland on Friday, and scored 27 while shooting 9 of 14 the following night at Indiana. His teammates shot just 36.7 percent, though, and the Bulls committed 21 turnovers in a 100-90 loss.
Gibson’s role is increasing in the absence of center Joakim Noah(notes), out indefinitely as he battles plantar fasciitis. The rookie is averaging 13.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in his last seven games.
Gibson has scored in double figures in all three games against Atlanta.