Hawks-Cavaliers Preview

The Associated Press

Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks proved difficult to contain their last time out, using a smaller lineup to create matchup problems for their opponent.

The Cleveland Cavaliers know all too well how formidable Atlanta can be.

The Hawks hope their new-look starting five can remain effective as they try for a sixth consecutive win over the Cavaliers on Sunday.

Johnson was the starting shooting guard but has been switched to small forward for the past four games in place of Marvin Williams, who will miss a third straight game Sunday due to a hip flexor injury. Atlanta (25-19) has moved Kirk Hinrich into the starting backcourt alongside Jeff Teague.

The Hawks improved to 6-3 with Hinrich in the starting five Friday, beating Washington 102-88 behind a season best-tying 34 points from Johnson. Hinrich scored just five points but dished out five assists.

"I like playing a 3 when we've got two smaller guys out there who can really penetrate the defense and make plays and guard those little quick guys," Johnson said. "It's definitely an advantage for us because now you've got three guys out there who can create and make plays for everybody."

Johnson is averaging 25.2 points - 6.6 more than his season mark - in five games since returning from a lengthy absence due to left knee tendinitis.

That surely doesn't bode well for the Cavaliers (16-25), who have been outscored by an average of 17.0 points during a five-game losing streak to the Hawks. Johnson missed two of those games due to injury.

Atlanta's run in this series includes two double-digit road victories last season and a 121-94 home win Jan. 21 in the only meeting this season as Johnson scored 25.

The Cavaliers will have a bit of a different look when they take the court Sunday. Cleveland traded backup point guard Ramon Sessions and relatively unknown Christian Eyenga to the Los Angeles Lakers for Luke Walton, Jason Kapono and a lottery-protected first-round pick in the 2012 draft as well as other considerations.

While Kapono was waived Saturday, Walton, who has appeared in just nine games this season, is looking forward to getting a fresh start.

"First thing I did was get on the laptop and see if we had a chance to make the playoffs - and we're only (a few) games out," Walton said. "It's exciting to be out here, it's gonna be fun to work with some of these young guys and try to make a run here towards the end of the season."

The Cavs, though, have followed a season-best three-game win streak by losing their last two games.

Rookie of the Year candidate Kyrie Irving continued his impressive play with 28 points Wednesday, but Cleveland lost 115-105 at Milwaukee.

In an attempt to shake things up, coach Byron Scott plans to start 6-foot-9 rookie Tristan Thompson in place of center Ryan Hollins. Thompson was averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 boards off the bench.

"I'll just come out and play hard. Set the tone early by rebounding and running the floor and doing what I've been doing all year," said Thompson, selected No. 4 overall in June's draft. "Atlanta definitely gave us a (hard time) the last time we played them, so we have to come out and play hard, come out early and try to hit them in the mouth."

Williams, Willie Green (hamstring) and Vladimir Radmanovic (sore back) won't face Cleveland. Center Jason Collins (elbow), though, is expected to return following a 21-game absence.

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