Hawks-Nets Preview

The Associated Press

Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson looks set to return for another meeting with his former team.

The Atlanta Hawks just avenged two recent losses and are looking to do the same to Brooklyn.

These teams are in contention for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and the Nets can take a key step towards that goal Sunday night if they hand the visiting Hawks a sixth straight road defeat.

Johnson sat out Tuesday's 108-98 home win over New Orleans with a nagging bruised left heel. He returned to practice Thursday and should start Sunday.

Coach P.J. Carlesimo gave his team Wednesday and Friday off with four days between games. The Nets (38-27) leave immediately after this contest to begin an eight-game trip Monday in Detroit.

"The four days are really big not just for Joe but for all our guys," Carlesimo said.

The Nets are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, one game behind Atlantic Division-leading New York. The Hawks (36-29) are tied for fifth with Chicago and Boston, two games behind Brooklyn.

Johnson is averaging only 13.7 points on 33.3 percent shooting against the Hawks this season, with the Nets taking two of three meetings. The most recent one was Brooklyn's 93-80 road victory last Saturday, as Atlanta matched its fourth-lowest point total of the season.

"We're going to see a totally different Atlanta game I'm sure, I'm afraid, Sunday night than we saw down in Atlanta," Carlesimo said.

The Hawks have won consecutive home games after a three-game slide. They were without Josh Smith and Jeff Teague in Wednesday's 96-92 win over the Lakers and both returned with different results in Friday's 107-94 victory over Phoenix.

Smith had 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists after being out with a sprained knee, just missing his fourth career triple-double.

"All I can do is distribute the ball and hopefully they knock the basket down," Smith said. "It's OK. I'll take the win over the triple-double any day."

Teague made 2 of 10 shots for eight points and four assists in 23 minutes off the bench. Former Nets guard Devin Harris has totaled 32 points over two straight starts in place of him.

"We're monitoring it very close," coach Larry Drew said Friday. "I had in my mind kind of the number of minutes I did want to play him (Teague) so I decided to go with Devin."

Atlanta avenged earlier defeats this month to Los Angeles and Phoenix, as they try to gain a season series split with Brooklyn.

How healthy Teague is could help determine this outcome. He had seven points and no assists last weekend against the Nets after averaging 24.5 points and 10.5 assists in two January meetings.

Brooklyn point guard Deron Williams has averaged 24.0 points and 13.0 assists while turning in consecutive double-doubles.

"He's managing the game very well," Carlesimo said. "He's also being a lot more vocal at practices, at timeouts and before and after games. It's a good thing.''

Williams has had trouble at times defending Teague, whose career-high 28 points keyed the Hawks' 109-95 victory over the Nets on Jan. 16. Harris is averaging 17.5 points in two 2012-13 starts versus the Nets.

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