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22-16

Nets-Hawks Preview

AP - Sports

Just three weeks ago, the Brooklyn Nets owned a .500 record and fired their coach. Now, they're in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and possess the NBA's longest active winning streak.

The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, were 10 games over the break-even mark on New Year's Day but have earned just one win since.

In the opener of a home-and-home series, the Nets go for an eighth consecutive victory Wednesday night against the struggling Hawks as Brooklyn's Joe Johnson faces his former team for the first time.

The Nets (23-15), who are in the midst of their longest winning streak since a 14-game run late in the 2005-06 season, are 9-1 since P.J. Carlesimo took over after Avery Johnson was fired on Dec. 27, with the team 14-14. Brooklyn is averaging 102.9 points under Carlesimo after averaging 94.5 in its first 28 games.

Tuesday's 113-106 win over Toronto marked the sixth time the Nets topped the century mark under Carlesimo, something they did seven times with Johnson at the helm. Brook Lopez had a game-high 22 points while Deron Williams and Johnson each added 21.

"Our confidence is high right now, definitely as a group," said Williams, who averages 16.9 points and 7.6 assists. "And when you're winning, when you're having fun, I think everybody picks their game up a little bit and feels like they have to if they want to join in, if they don't want to be left out."

Johnson, who appeared in six straight All-Star games as a Hawk from 2007-12 before being traded last July, has been instrumental to the winning streak. He's 20 of 42 from 3-point range while averaging 20.1 points in the last seven. The Nets are 14-3 when he scores at least 18, compared to going 9-12 when he gets 17 or fewer.

"We're just kind of feeding off each other, man," said Johnson, who is hitting 38.5 percent of his 3-pointers on the season. "We're in a nice rhythm right now and hopefully we can keep it this way. It's a lot of fun to watch and I'm sure guys are having a great time in this locker room."

The Hawks (21-16) have won 10 of 12 in the series but have struggled of late, losing six of seven overall. They may have hit rock bottom in a 97-58 loss at Chicago on Monday.

Atlanta scored a franchise-low 20 points in the first half, and only Jeff Teague's layup with 7.9 seconds left prevented the final total from being the team's lowest ever. Mike Scott led the Hawks with 10 off the bench as no starter scored in double figures.

"This was very, very embarrassing," coach Larry Drew said. "From where we were as a team to where we're at right now, we have lost all sense of team on both ends of the floor. And why that's happened, I really can't put my finger on it."

The Hawks suspended leading scorer Josh Smith on Wednesday morning for "conduct detrimental to the team," and he will sit out this game. Smith, who averages 16.5 points, had totaled just 20 on 8-of-27 shooting his last two games.

''Clearly I am competitive and was frustrated by our recent losses,'' Smith said in a statement released by the team. ''I understand and respect the team's actions and just want to get back on the court to do whatever is necessary to help my teammates. I apologize for letting them down and apologize to our fans for not being available for tonight's game.''

The offense has hit a serious slump, averaging 85.0 points over the last seven games after putting up 97.9 during their 20-10 start. Atlanta was already giving up a 2.0 edge in rebounds per game through its first 20 contests but has since seen its deficit increase to 8.5.

The Nets will get a good look at Atlanta's possible lineup changes with the teams meeting again Friday in Brooklyn.

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