Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson leads the NBA in the one category that makes every general manager cringe this time of year.Minutes.
And with the Hawks eyeballing a second straight playoff berth, and perhaps even more, the idea of Johnson being burned out before the All-Star break is a scary one.
And if you look solely at Johnson's recent dip in production, there's no logical explanation other than he's gassed from all the minutes he's played. He's logged a jaw-dropping 29 games with 40 or more minutes and the season's barely halfway over.
Further proof that Johnson isn't the same player he was last month, when the Hawks rolled and finished December by winning nine of their last 10 games, comes in the form of his stat line. Last month he averaged 24.2 points, 6.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 35 percent from beyond the three-point line.
Through 13 games in January, Johnson averaged 16.9 points, 7.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds while shooting just 36 percent from the floor and 26 percent from beyond the three-point.
"It's just one of those things where your shots don't go down the way they usually do and you have to keep plugging away," Johnson said, explaining away his struggles without a shrug. "I don't worry about this stuff. I just keep coming to work the way I always do and make sure I'm doing whatever I can to help my team win."
The Hawks haven't done a whole lot of that lately either, going 5-8 through 13 games.
That's why Hawks coach Mike Woodson has his own ideas about how to snap his star out his recent funk.
"When a guy goes through a slump like this the only way to come out of it is to work your way through it," Woodson said. "That's the only way it can happen. There is nothing magical that's going to fix it. And all good players go through these stretches, and they always figure it out. And Joe is too good of a player to do anything but work his way out of this."
KNICKS 112, HAWKS 104: The Hawks' current struggles work better than any nationwide cell phone plan. They haven't won anywhere the past five days.
Not Atlanta, Miami or New York, thanks mostly to Nate Robinson's 20-point fourth quarter outburst.
But make no mistake, these Hawks are struggling. Wednesday's 112-104 loss to the sub-.500 New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden is the Hawks' latest failed attempt at recapturing the magic that led them to a top four spot in the Eastern Conference standings by New Year's Day.
They could be out of that spot by the weekend, with both Detroit and Miami clawing at their heels for that coveted space as the playoff chase heats up heading into next month's All-Star break.
Not even an eight-point halftime cushion was enough room for the Hawks to work with Wednesday night. They promptly turned that advantage over to the Knicks before the end of the third quarter. They went from leading 55-47 at the break to trailing 82-74 to start the fourth quarter.
The Knicks stretched that lead to as many as 13 before this one was over, schooling the Hawks' down the stretch with backdoor plays and out-hustling them for offensive rebounds and put-backs to seal the deal.
It would be easy to lay some of the blame on the Hawks' continued free throw woes -- they made just 17-of-32 on the night, including Josh Smith's 2-for-10 effort. But their problems run deeper than that, particularly in the backcourt, where captain and All-Star Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby continue to struggle scoring.
While they average better than 37 points combined, they couldn't find the mark against the Knicks. They combined for just 20 points, shooting 7-for-28 from the floor in the process.