Atlanta (17-11) at Brooklyn (7-20)

By NOEY KUPCHAN, STATS Writer Saturday, Dec 18, 2010 Tipoff: 1:00 pm EST Sun Dec 19, 2010

The Atlanta Hawks have struggled on the road this month, but having their leading scorer back sooner than expected after surgery could make it a little easier to get back in the win column.

Led by Joe Johnson(notes), Atlanta looks to avoid a fourth straight road defeat Sunday when it meets the New Jersey Nets at the Prudential Center.

The Hawks (17-11) have dropped four of five this month as visitors, all while Johnson was recovering from Dec. 2 elbow surgery that was expected to sideline him for up to six weeks. He had been scoring 17.1 points per game before the injury.

However, Johnson returned Friday night against Charlotte, and scored 16 points with eight assists in the Hawks’ 90-85 win, their sixth straight in Atlanta.

“(The rehab) was going so well, I was able to get back out there a lot earlier than we expected,” Johnson said. “All the guys were surprised. I think they were of the mindset that I wasn’t coming back until at least after Christmas.”

Since joining Atlanta in 2005, Johnson is averaging 23.8 points over eight games in New Jersey. The Hawks, though, have gone 1-7 in those contests and dropped 15 of their last 17 visits there, including a 107-101 overtime loss on Nov. 23.

Johnson was 6 of 18 from the field and finished with 16 points.

The Hawks have been outscored by 17.0 points during their three-game losing streak on the road, their longest since a six-game slide March 17-April 7.

Josh Smith(notes), who scored a season-high 34 on 14 of 16 shooting from the field in a 116-101 home win over the Nets on Dec. 7, ranks among the league-leaders with 2.1 blocks per game. The Hawks are 14-3 when he blocks at least two shots.

After snapping a season-high eight-game losing streak Thursday at home against Washington, the Nets fell 98-92 in Toronto on Friday night while shooting a season-low 16.7 percent (2 of 12) from 3-point range.

Leading by six in the fourth quarter, New Jersey appeared in position to record back-to-back wins for the first time since starting the season 2-0, but ended up falling for the ninth time in 10 games.

“Our guys battled,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “We came to play tonight, we just couldn’t finish.”

Brook Lopez(notes) had 20 points, seven rebounds and four blocks for New Jersey. He is averaging 28.0 points versus the Hawks this season - 8.8 more than his 2010-11 average.

Devin Harris(notes), who owns a career average of 13.2 points, has scored 24.2 and 9.2 assists over his last nine meetings with the Hawks. He had a season-best 13 assists in his last game against them.

The Nets are shooting 34.0 percent from beyond the arc, but only 22.6 percent over the past four games.

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Sunday, Dec 19