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Backcourt battle goes to Hawks
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ATLANTA — Joe Johnson found his shot, and the Atlanta Hawks found a way to beat the New Jersey Nets.

Johnson scored 29 points to shake his January slump as the Hawks won the matchup of high-scoring backcourts and beat the Nets 105-88 on Friday night.

Johnson’s backcourt-mate Mike Bibby added 20 points as Atlanta won against New Jersey for the first time in four tries this season.

“I think we were just more aggressive,” Johnson said. “We were very relentless in getting to the basket and making plays. They really kicked us in the first three games so we knew we had to come out and be the aggressor.”

New Jersey’s Devin Harris and Vince Carter form the top-scoring backcourt in the league with their combined average of 43.1 points, about six points better than the third-place Hawks’ combo. But Harris (20 points) and Carter (18) combined to make only 11 of 31 shots against Atlanta.

“We kind of lost our composure a little bit,” Harris said. “We fought back and then Joe Johnson just kind of took over the game. ... We just didn’t have that last push.”

Hawks backup guard Flip Murray had 23 points and Marvin Williams added 16 with 11 rebounds.
Johnson finished one point shy of reaching 10,000 for his career. He said he didn’t realize late in the game he was so close to the milestone, but he was painfully aware of his struggles this month.

Entering the game, Johnson was averaging only 16.8 points — almost 5 points below his season average — and shooting only 35 percent from the field in January. With their leader struggling, the Hawks were 5-9 in the month before beating the Nets.

“I take a lot of the blame for January because I haven’t been playing up to par,” Johnson said. “I think I’m starting to get it back now.”

Bibby also had struggled, scoring a combined 12 points in three straight losses.

“It’s good to have them back,” Williams said. “They haven’t been shooting the ball well the last few games, but they came back tonight. ... I’ll take my backcourt against any backcourt in the league.”

Johnson, who earned his third straight All-Star selection when he was named an Eastern Conference backup on Thursday, emerged from his slump to make 11 of 17 shots from the field.

“Joe Johnson took over,” said Nets coach Lawrence Frank. “He was the dominant player.”

Johnson said he and Bibby looked at the matchup against the Nets as a challenge.

“I just told Mike in order for us to succeed as a team, if we don’t have a great game, we at least have to play OK,” Johnson said. “He agreed. Tonight was an example.

“Me and Mike both had a challenge tonight. We fought hard tonight and I thought we answered the challenge.”

Bibby said the Hawks won with defense.

“We were making it tough on their top two scorers to get to the basket,” Bibby said. “Shots come and go when you play 82 games. Tonight we were trying to get on track defensively and try to play together.”
New Jersey has lost eight of nine, including three straight.

“We have got to turn it around pretty quick,” Harris said. “This is the time.”

Added Carter: “If we want to continue to be a playoff team we’ve got to go out there and perform.”
The Hawks pulled away in the second half after leading only 55-53 at halftime. Bibby didn’t score in the first quarter but was 4-for-4 from the field for 11 points in the second period.

The Hawks outscored the Nets 50-35 in the second half.

“They out-executed is in the second half,” Carter said. “I think we got in a rush.”

Notes: Hawks coach Mike Woodson said C Al Horford, who missed his 11th straight game with a bone bruise in his right knee, could return to practice Monday and possibly play Wednesday at Minnesota. ... Nets rookie Brook Lopez had 15 points and Josh Boone added 10. ... The Hawks snapped their three-game losing streak.

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