Suns-Hawks Preview

Atlanta Hawks leading scorer Joe Johnson is struggling, but

first-year coach Larry Drew has plenty of other offensive options

to choose from. If the game’s on the line, the Phoenix Suns know

Jamal Crawford will likely be at the top of that list.

Looking to open 7-0 for the first time in 13 years, the Hawks go

for their 15th consecutive victory at Philips Arena on Sunday when

they face a Suns team coming off a much-needed win.

Johnson has topped the Hawks in scoring each season since

arriving in 2005-06 following 3 1/2 years with the Suns, and again

leads Atlanta with 18.2 points per game. The four-time All-Star,

though, is averaging 13.3 points on 30.6 percent shooting in three

contests this month.

“In the past we’ve struggled if he hasn’t shot the ball well,”

Drew said after Johnson went 4 of 13 and scored a season-low 11 in

a 113-103 victory at Minnesota on Friday. “I think it just goes to

show our depth.”

Atlanta was 14-8 in 2009-10 when Johnson shot 40 percent or

less. The Hawks have won all four times this season when he’s been

below that mark.

While the Hawks’ success is due in part to the level of

competition – their opponents were 8-25 heading into Saturday – the

team’s balance has helped it move within one win of its best start

since it was 11-0 in 1997-98.

Six Hawks are averaging double figures in points, and the team

has two of the league’s top young rebounders in Al Horford

(career-high 10.2 per game) and Josh Smith, who is averaging 9.2

and a league-best 4.2 blocks.

“Guys are always stepping up, always filling positions,”

Crawford said Wednesday after scoring a season-high 22 points

following a one-game absence due to a toe injury.

Crawford, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, is averaging 17.0

of his club’s 35.5 points per game off the bench.

The Suns witnessed the spark Crawford provides in their last

game in Atlanta. He scored 21 in that Jan. 15 matchup, hitting a

28-footer at the buzzer to give the Hawks a 102-101 win as they

rallied from a four-point deficit with 10 seconds left.

Phoenix (2-3) is coming off an even more remarkable comeback.

Trailing Memphis by four with 3.7 seconds left in regulation, Jason

Richardson scored five of his season-high 38 points in the final

1.1 seconds of the fourth quarter – including a buzzer-beating

tip-in – in a 123-118 double-overtime victory Friday.

Newcomer Hedo Turkoglu, who has taken over for the departed

Amare Stoudemire, turned in an encouraging performance with five

3-pointers and a season-high 18 points versus Memphis.

“He’s getting there,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “You’ve got to

understand, he’s playing a brand new position (power forward).”

Steve Nash matched a season-high with nine assists Friday, but

failed to reach 10 in his first five games for the first time since

1999-2000.

The two-time MVP has averaged 18.5 points and 12.0 assists in

his last four games in Atlanta.

Suns swingman Josh Childress plays his first game at Philips

Arena since the Hawks’ Game 6 win over Boston in the 2008 Eastern

Conference quarterfinals. Childress, the sixth overall pick by

Atlanta in 2004, played his first four seasons with the Hawks

before spending the last two in Greece.

Atlanta’s last home loss was 111-103 in overtime to Dallas on

Feb. 26.