(Sports Network) - The surprise return of Joe Johnson was like an early Christmas present for Atlanta. Now, the Hawks hope the All-Star guard can be the gift that keeps on giving as Larry Drew's club heads to north Jersey to take on the lowly Nets at Prudential Center.
Johnson had not played since November 28 because of arthroscopic right elbow surgery, and was initially supposed to miss 4-to-6 weeks. Johnson said playing one-on-one with Hawks assistant coach Nick Van Exel contributed to his early return.
"I think he did a great job in banging me, just trying to see if I was game- ready in the past few days," Johnson said. "Felt pretty good."
Josh Smith finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Hawks, who were coming off double-digit losses at Boston and Detroit. Al Horford and Marvin Williams each contributed 16 points in the victory.
The Nets lost for 10th straight time on the road Friday when Leandro Barbosa's three-pointer with 14.9 seconds remaining gave the Toronto Raptors some separation, as they went on to top New Jersey, 98-92, at Air Canada Centre.
Brook Lopez led the Nets with 20 points and Kris Humphries scored 12 to go with 12 rebounds for the Nets, who have dropped nine of 10 overall. Devin Harris added 15 and Travis Outlaw scored 14 off the bench in the loss.
"[Andrea Bargnani] is tough to guard," stated New Jersey head coach Avery Johnson. "We double-teamed him, but then Barbosa hit the three and that did it for us."
Atlanta has won five of the past six meetings in the series although the teams have split a pair of games so far this season with each holding serve on its home floor. Meanwhile, the Hawks will be attempting to snap a three-game skid on the road tonight and historically struggle in New Jersey, dropping 15 of their past 17 visits to the Garden State.