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Posted Jan 14 2007 2:30PM
Josh Smith's return helped give the Atlanta Hawks a much-needed lift. The Boston Celtics could use a lift from just about anybody right now.
The two struggling, injury-plagued clubs meet for the first time this season at Philips Arena on Monday.
Atlanta (11-23) and Boston (12-24) own two of the worst records in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks are 7-22 since a 4-1 start to the season, and are on their way to finishing with a losing record for the eighth consecutive season.
The Celtics, meanwhile, have dropped four straight and 11 of 13 amid a rash of injuries, most notably a left foot ailment that has kept star Paul Pierce out of the lineup for the last 12 contests.
Smith had been expected to miss up to four weeks after undergoing a hernia operation Dec. 26, but returned to the court early and made a crucial 3-pointer with 10.7 seconds left in Atlanta's 99-93 victory over Detroit on Friday night.
The Hawks, 1-7 in the eight games Smith missed, were still missing starters Zaza Pachulia (ankle) and Speedy Claxton (knee) due to injuries. Both players are day-to-day.
"When I first got out of surgery, I could barely walk,'' Smith said after recording five points, eight rebounds and four assists against the Pistons. "I was not expecting to go tonight, but we kept getting guys injured. I couldn't see my team hurting. I had to get in there.''
Joe Johnson scored 34 points to lead Atlanta to its highest point total in 10 games. The Hawks are 7-4 this season when he reaches the 30-point mark, 4-19 in other games.
Johnson, a 2001 first-round pick of the Celtics, is averaging 16.4 points in nine games against his original NBA team, reaching double figures each time.
Boston's injury woes are even worse than Atlanta's. Tony Allen had been averaging 19.0 points per game in Pierce's absence, but is now out for the season after tearing knee ligaments in Wednesday's 97-84 loss to Indiana. Wally Szczerbiak (ankle), Delonte West (back) and Brian Scalabrine (knee) are listed as day-to-day.
The short-handed Celtics dropped a fourth straight game for the third time this season Saturday, 81-73 at Detroit. The injuries limited Boston to nine players.
Gerald Green led the Celtics with a career-high 24 points, Ryan Gomes scored 17 and Al Jefferson added 12 points and a career-high 22 rebounds.
"We're asking them to learn fast, and they're trying so hard,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I'm not happy, but I understand the predicament that we are in.''
The Celtics won two of three meetings in last season's series but the Hawks took the most recent matchup, 98-84 at Atlanta on Jan 10, 2006.
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