Johnson leads Hawks into New Orleans

As Joe Johnson goes, so go the Atlanta Hawks lately.

He’ll look to continue his hot stretch as visiting Atlanta seeks to end a three-game losing streak to the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday night.

Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed Atlanta as a two-point road favorite, with the total set at 174.

Johnson’s recent performances have helped the Hawks overcome a potentially disastrous injury to big man Al Horford, who has been out since tearing a pectoral muscle Jan. 11.

Atlanta (14-6) is 7-2 since Horford went down, with Johnson averaging 25.7 points in the victories and scoring no fewer than 23 in any of them. He’s combined for 18 points in the two defeats.

Johnson scored 28 of his 30 points after halftime and hit a tying 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left in regulation as the Hawks defeated Detroit 107-101 in overtime Friday.

Atlanta improved to 10-1 when Johnson scores at least 20. He said the tying shot at the end of the fourth quarter was tougher than it may have seemed.

“I jammed two fingers on my left hand,” said Johnson, who went 1 for 9 from the field in the first half. “I couldn’t really get my feeling back. I thought we were going to call a timeout, but nobody called a timeout, so I just did what I could to try to get a shot off.”

Marvin Williams added 22 points for the Hawks, who trailed by as much as 12 in the second half and by six with less than a minute left.

“To me it’s just an unbelievable win,” coach Larry Drew said. “It was a gutsy performance. We were literally dead in the water.”

It’s likely the same feeling Drew had in the most recent meeting with the Hornets.

Johnson was held to nine points and Atlanta was embarrassed on their home floor, 100-59 last Jan. 21. It marked the fewest points the Hawks have scored since moving from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968.

That New Orleans team looks vastly different from the one that will take the court Sunday, though it proved Friday it can be just as dangerous.

The Hornets (4-15) ended a nine-game losing streak by routing Orlando 93-67 with the help of Carl Landry’s team-high 17 points off the bench.

Coach Monty Williams was proud of the effort from a rebuilding team which lost Chris Paul and David West in the offseason.

“Any time you hold team like that to 67 points, you get excited about the fight and character of our team,” Williams said. “I hope our fans understand this transition hasn’t been easy.

“We have a ways to go … but when I’m in that locker room, in those huddles and the guys are supporting one another, out there fighting for each other, the way they played tonight, it makes the prospects for the future of our organization look bright.”

Building for the future has become a priority, and the organization told Chris Kaman – who came over from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Paul trade – it is seeking trades for the veteran center.

Kaman has been inactive for the past two games and will no longer suit up for the Hornets, who plan to give youngsters Jason Smith, Gustavo Ayon and Al-Farouq Aminu more playing time.

“We had a conversation with Chris and expressed that the Hornets are going to go in a different direction,” general manager Dell Demps said. “Chris has been the ultimate professional during this process and we thank him for the way he has handled the situation.”

New Orleans has held Atlanta to less than 90 points in winning each of the last three meetings.

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