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Woodson shrugs off return to Atlanta to face Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP)

Mike Woodson shrugged off his return to Atlanta on Friday, saying he was more concerned about getting his own team healthy.

Woodson, now the interim coach of the New York Knicks, coached the Hawks for six seasons. He guided Atlanta to a better record each year and three straight playoff appearances, only to be fired in 2010 and replaced by one of his assistants, Larry Drew.

While Woodson wanted to finish what he started with the Hawks, he insisted that facing his former team from the opposite bench held no special meaning for him. This was the first time he has coached at Philips Arena since his firing.

''Not really. I truly mean that when I say that,'' Woodson said. ''I wish these guys here nothing but the best, but again, I'm in New York now and I have an opportunity to coach a great New York team.''

Woodson was out of coaching last season, but he returned as a Knicks assistant this year, focusing on defense. Then, he was promoted on an interim basis when Mike D'Antoni quit with New York mired in a slump.

The Knicks won eight times in Woodson's first nine games, strengthening their bid for a playoff spot even with a rash of injuries. Four players, including star Amare Stoudemire and point guard sensation Jeremy Lin, did not play against the Hawks.

''I'm just excited about the opportunity,'' Woodson said. ''I'm just trying to see who's going to step up and play, the fact that we are a little short-handed.''

Woodson praised Hawks star Joe Johnson, who was hurt and didn't play when the teams met in New York on Feb. 22. The Knicks won that game 99-82.

''He's a big piece of their puzzle,'' Woodson said. ''He's been a big-time player over the last five, six years he's been with this organization, and before that. He's an All-Star. He plays like an All-Star. I have a great deal of respect for Joe and how he carries himself on and off the court. So I've got to think he's going to come out tonight and try to have a big game.''

Drew said it shouldn't be a problem coaching against his former boss.

''I've been in enough situations now to deal with this,'' the Hawks coach said. ''He and I, having played together, having coached together, it will be a little different.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Tagged: Knicks, Hawks

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