Atlanta (19-12) at New Orleans (17-12)

By JUSTIN EINHORN, STATS Senior Editor Friday, Dec 24, 2010 Tipoff: 7:00 pm EST Sun Dec 26, 2010

Joe Johnson(notes) might be feeling better than he has in quite a while.

Following a holiday break which may have gotten him closer to full strength, Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks hope to begin turning around their road woes Sunday night in a matchup with the New Orleans Hornets.

Originally expected to be out four to six weeks after elbow surgery earlier this month, Johnson missed less than three but looked rusty upon returning. He shot 33.3 percent from the field - 3 of 16 on 3-point attempts - while averaging 15.7 points in his first three games back in action before having a performance more worthy of a four-time All-Star on Wednesday.

He led Atlanta (19-12) with 23 points, shooting 9 of 17 with three 3-pointers, and had seven assists in a 98-84 win over Cleveland.

“I got into a little rhythm in the fourth quarter,” said Johnson, who added that he still can’t fully extend his right arm. “I hadn’t been feeling that rhythm.”

He also might have gotten a boost from the news earlier that day that a long legal battle involving ownership of the team finally was resolved.

“Now maybe we can move on,” Johnson said. “I haven’t paid a lot of attention to it, but it’s kind of a relief.”

He may get more relief from a strong effort on the road. Johnson is shooting 36.5 percent away from home, going 8 of 46 from 3-point range.

The Hawks are 1-5 in road games since Johnson’s injury, averaging 83.5 points, and have lost the last four.

Atlanta now kicks off an 11-day, seven-game stretch which includes six on the road, and Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford(notes) may return for the start of it after missing five games with back spasms.

The first stop is a tough one, though, against a Hornets team that is 12-3 at home.

New Orleans (17-12) has won its last three home games, with reserve Marcus Thornton(notes) scoring at least 18 in each. He’s averaged 4.3 points during the team’s six-game road losing streak.

“My teammates and I feed off of the crowd’s energy,” Thornton said. “The crowd brings great energy every game. For me, that’s what I feed off of. Once the crowd gets into the game, everybody gets more into the game. They play a big part.”

Emeka Okafor(notes) has played a big role for the Hornets lately, posting a third straight double-double Wednesday with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a 105-91 victory over New Jersey.

His contributions defensively continue to be a big factor.

“Sometimes he doesn’t block a shot, but he jumps high enough to distract it,” coach Monty Williams said. “On most nights, Emeka is an X-factor for us.”

Okafor now looks to shut down an up-and-coming young big man for the third straight game when he faces Al Horford(notes). In the Hornets’ last two games, Okafor helped limit Indiana’s Roy Hibbert(notes) and New Jersey’s Brook Lopez(notes) to a combined 7-of-26 shooting and seven rebounds - less than half their combined average.

Horford ranks among the league leaders in double-doubles (16) and field-goal shooting (57.7 percent). The Hawks are 2-5 when he’s held under 15 points.

These teams haven’t met since Nov. 21 last season, when the Hornets were missing an injured Chris Paul(notes) but ended a three-game losing streak in the series with a 96-88 home win as Thornton scored 21. Johnson was 6 of 18 for 14 points.

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Sunday, Dec 26