As his wounded bunch prepares to hit the road, Hawks coach Larry Drew is unsure of which players will be able to suit up Tuesday when Atlanta visits Indiana in the first contest of a six-game trip.
All-Star guard Joe Johnson, with tendinitis in his left knee again flaring up, said he is unlikely to play against the Pacers. Johnson has missed four of the past five games — even with the benefit of the All-Star break in between — because of the issue.
In his one game back, he played 38 minutes against Golden State last Wednesday, shooting 6-of-17 and totaling 18 points. Johnson said he has learned not to jump back into action so quickly — even if he feels better.
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“My thing is right when I’m feeling great, I don’t want to jump straight back out there,” he said. “That’s kind of what I did the last time. I thought it was feeling great and . . . I’m really going to test it before I get back out there.”
Johnson is “day to day,” Drew said, as are the Hawks’ Willie Green, who has missed the past two games with back spasms, and forward Tracy McGrady, who left Saturday’s 97-90 win over Oklahoma City with a knee injury after playing less than two minutes. On top of it all, veteran Jerry Stackhouse has a stomach virus and was not at practice Monday. Drew said Stackhouse might meet the team in Indiana on a separate flight from the team charter.
“I think we have more day-to-days than we do active bodies,” Drew said.
It’s close. Of the 14 players on the roster, including reserve center Jason Collins (sprained elbow), who remains out, five have varying degrees of uncertainty right now. The good news is Saturday’s impressive win, which came against the Western Conference’s top team despite the Hawks’ missing Johnson and those other bodies.
Drew said he thought the Hawks were as consistent in making plays against the Thunder as they were in any game this season and that the victory was one of the highlights of the season.
“It was really, it really was,” he said. ” . . . And to put together a solid game, four solid quarters, as depleted as we are . . . our guys did a really good job of playing with energy.”
In particular, Drew cited the contributions from the bench. Ivan Johnson played 21 minutes, posting eight points and five rebounds. Stackhouse played 20 minutes and had five assists to one turnover, and Jannero Pargo had eight points, making 2-of-4 three-pointers, with an assist and no turnovers.
Whereas in the past Hawks bench players were mostly matched up against their opponents’ reserves, Drew said now they will have to play against what Drew called “first-tier” players.
“Hopefully, we can take both of those wins (vs. Milwaukee and OKC) and we can build off them,” Drew said.
As weakened as they might be, the Hawks actually could catch a break against the Pacers. Indiana is playing in Chicago, owner of the league’s top record, on Monday before having to fly home for Tuesday’s game.
If the standings hold their form, Indiana (23-12) could be the first-round opponent of the Hawks (22-15). But with 28 games remaining, Drew isn’t thinking that way. In the first two meetings between the teams, the home team has held serve.
“We’re not really focusing on playoff stuff right now,” he said. “Certainly, Indiana has had a very good year, and they’re a very solid team. I just want to focus on playing well.”
The trip continues Wednesday in Miami, Friday in Detroit, Sunday in Sacramento, March 13 in Denver and concludes March 14 at the Los Angeles Clippers. Drew realizes that “we may or may not have Joe” for a portion of the trip.
Johnson said he’s trying to strengthen his quadriceps to get rid of the chronic nature of the injury. He believes it is working.
“It’s nowhere near (as painful as) the last time I played,” Johnson said. “Every game it’s getting better.”
The Hawks have won three of their last four, which has, in one way, eased Johnson’s pain.
“When you lose a game or two, you tend to get anxious to get out there and help as much as possible,” he said. “If they keep winning, I might take my time.”