Now that the Atlanta Hawks have clinched a playoff spot, the focus could turn to the health of their leading scorer.
Looking to win two straight for the first time in almost two weeks, the visiting Hawks will be without Joe Johnson(notes) when they try for a fourth consecutive victory over the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night.
Johnson had 12 points when he suffered a strained right thumb in the third quarter of a 98-87 win over New Jersey on Saturday. The five-time All-Star returned to bench after having X-rays, but did not play.
“It’s just sore,” Johnson said. “I can’t really do much with it as far as catch the basketball.”
While Johnson’s 18.5 points per game is the lowest in his six seasons with the Hawks, his absence could be a major blow to a team trying to gain some momentum heading into the playoffs.
Though the Hawks (41-32) have secured their fourth straight playoff berth, they have won just four times in 12 games. They’re fifth in the Eastern Conference and likely won’t have home-court advantage in the first round.
With a postseason spot guaranteed, the Hawks could give Johnson some extended time to heal over the final nine games. Atlanta went 5-4 when an elbow injury kept Johnson out in the first half of December, however they would definitely need him healthy in order to make a lengthy playoff run.
“We’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to be as healthy as possible going into the playoffs.”
The Hawks certainly have a good chance to prevail without him as they try to conclude a three-game season sweep of the Cavaliers (14-57), who have failed to score more than 88 points in each of the teams’ previous two meetings.
Though the Hawks have played well against Cleveland this season, they will try to avoid a fourth consecutive road loss overall.
The Cavaliers snapped a seven-game home skid with a 97-91 win over Detroit on Friday.
“It’s always nice when you have a guy that is a closer,” coach Byron Scott said about Davis, who has averaged 14.6 points with the Cavaliers. “It’s great when you have a guy with that type of ability and confidence.”
Davis, who has seen limited time in Cleveland because of a sore knee and the death of his grandmother, had 22 points and 13 assists against the Hawks last month while with the Clippers.
The Cavaliers are 6-12 since their NBA-record 26-game losing streak.