Brooklyn (23-48) at Atlanta (40-32)

By JEFF MEZYDLO, STATS Senior Writer Friday, Mar 25, 2011 Tipoff: 7:00 pm EDT Sat Mar 26, 2011

The Atlanta Hawks might be on the verge of a fourth straight postseason appearance, but they certainly have not played like a playoff contender of late.

Despite their recent struggles, the Hawks can clinch a playoff spot with a fifth consecutive home victory over the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night.

Atlanta (40-32) has lost eight of 11 and is 7-14 since Feb. 8, but needs one victory to secure a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Hawks are 4-8 in March and assured of their first losing month since January, 2009.

Fifth in the East, the Hawks are three games ahead of sixth-place Philadelphia - which beat Atlanta 105-100 on Wednesday.

“We’re really trying to find ourselves,” All-Star center Al Horford(notes) said. “We just have to be mentally stronger.”

The Hawks also need to play better at Philips Arena, where they have lost eight of 12 and fell 114-81 to Chicago on Tuesday.

Though Atlanta is 21-15 at Philips, they have suffered five home losses by 20 or more points, including three by more than 30. Both rank as the top total in NBA history for teams with winning records.

Atlanta has lost three of four at home and been outscored by an average of 23.0 points in those defeats. The Hawks have averaged 89.3 points their last four games at Philips.

“Everybody on this team knows their role,” All-Star Joe Johnson(notes) said. “Everybody on this team knows what we have to do to win. Yet still we don’t come out and do it. It makes us all look bad. Until we get that part of the game down, then we’re going to continue to look bad.

“We’re a team that sits here in this locker room and talk all the time about what we want to do and what we need to do. Then we go out on the floor and do things that are out of our character or that’s not within ourselves.”

Johnson has been out of character averaging 18.6 points, the lowest in his six-year career with Atlanta. He’s averaged 12.8 the last five games.

The veteran swingman has totaled 30 points on 10-of-34 shooting in two meetings - both losses - against New Jersey this season. An elbow injury kept Johnson out of Atlanta’s 116-101 home win over the Nets on Dec. 7.

Despite their recent struggles at home, the Hawks have averaged 117.5 points and shot 55.6 percent during a four-game home winning streak over the Nets.

Johnson’s averaged 25.3 points on 59.0 percent shooting his last four home games versus New Jersey.

The Nets (23-48) fell to 5-30 on the road with a 95-85 loss at Orlando on Friday. Anthony Morrow(notes) had 19 points and Jordan Farmar(notes) added 15 with 16 assists as New Jersey lost for the fifth time in six games since winning a season-high five in a row.

Though center Brook Lopez(notes) was held to 10 points Friday, he’s averaged 24.0 against the Hawks this season.

Nets All-Star guard Deron Williams(notes) likely will miss at least two more games with a strained tendon in his right wrist. He is averaging 14.8 points and 13.1 assists in eight games since being acquired from Utah.

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Saturday, Mar 26