In Joe Johnson's last game in Phoenix, he sparked a fourth-quarter rally to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a win over the Phoenix Suns. To snap out of their current funk, the Hawks could use a similar performance from the former Sun.
Johnson looks to break out of his shooting slump and help the struggling Hawks pull off another upset over his former team when they visit the surging Suns on Tuesday.
Johnson spent three and a half seasons with Phoenix between 2002-05, helping the Suns from a lottery team to a perennial contender in the competitive Western Conference.
He asked to be traded after the 2005 playoffs, however, and Phoenix accommodated him by sending him to the Hawks in a contentious sign-and-trade deal that led to a legal battle among Hawks owners that still hasn't been settled.
Johnson has averaged 27.5 points in splitting his first two trips back to Phoenix. He scored 17 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter as the Hawks took advantage of the absence of Suns point guard Steve Nash with a 120-111 victory on Feb. 9 last season.
It was one of Phoenix's eight home losses last season, but Johnson insisted he didn't take any special pleasure in beating his former club.
"I'm happy we came in here and beat a great team," he said.
Repeating that performance could be a challenge for the Hawks (18-22), who have lost 10 of their last 14 games, including five of six.
Johnson's recent shooting woes could make it even more difficult. He's averaging 15.3 points and shooting only 34.0 percent from the field in the first three games of the Hawks' five-game road trip, which concludes when they visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.
Johnson, though, might not need a big game for Atlanta to beat Phoenix. In the teams' first meeting of the season, he was just 3-for-17 from the field, but Atlanta won 105-96 at home on Nov. 7 behind 22 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and five blocked shots from Josh Smith.
The Hawks are seeking to win two games against Phoenix in a single season for the first time since sweeping the 1991-92 series. Atlanta won the teams' lone meeting in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.
The Suns (32-13) have won six of their last seven games, holding opponents to 98.9 points and 43.1 percent shooting from the field in that stretch. They allowed a season-low point total in their 88-77 win over Chicago on Sunday.
Phoenix is the highest-scoring team in the league at 109.5 points per game, but coach Mike D'Antoni has seen improvement in his club's ability to stop other teams.
"We played pretty good defense," D'Antoni said after the Suns held Chicago to 34.7 percent shooting. "We're doing things defensively that are going to help us in the future. People don't give us credit for our defense yet."
Atlanta's defense struggled on Sunday, when the Hawks blew a 19-point second-half lead to lose 94-93 to Portland.
"It's frustrating," said Hawks forward Marvin Williams, who had 17 points and is averaging 23.3 over his last three games. "We know we are better than that."
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