New York --- If you let Joe Johnson tell it, he's fine. There's nothing he's doing now that he wasn't doing last month. In December, Johnson led the Hawks to 11 wins in 15 games and a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Take a quick look at his numbers in January and it's clear the Hawks' captain and All-Star isn't fine.
Take another look at his body language on the floor and it's clear he's fatigued, physically and perhaps psychologically, as teams use bruising tactics to crowd him and force him into uncomfortable positions on the floor.
In December, Johnson averaged 24.2 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 35 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
In January, he's averaging just 16.9 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 36 percent and 26 percent, respectively, in 13 games.
"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. "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."
Johnson has been unable to do that, too, this month. The Hawks have been up and down and are 5-8 with a game tonight against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
"When a guy goes through a slump like this the only way to come out of it is to work your way through it," Hawks coach Mike 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."
But Johnson's struggles seem to run deeper. He doesn't look like himself on the floor, passing up shots he'd normally take and bypassing chances to attack teams on the offensive end that he never would have last month.
Might it be the wear and tear of playing so many minutes? Johnson is averaging 40 minutes a night, and he's played 40-plus minutes 29 times in 44 games.
He played 43 each in back-to-back losses to Phoenix (Sunday) and Miami (Monday), working on fumes late in both games.
"I got some good looks, but the shots just weren't going down," said Johnson, who has made just 12 of his 35 shots the past two games and had an uncharacteristic five turnovers in each of his past three games. "And that's really how it was for us as a team. It happens."
Still, Woodson acknowledged that he has to do something to find Johnson some rest, but he said he's not as concerned about his star's struggles as others might be.
"Now the stats don't lie. It is what it is," Woodson said. "The one thing that Joe has to understand, though, is that teams are going to attack him. I would. He's just that kind of player. And if you look at it as a whole, his assist numbers have gone up this month [6.0 in December to 7.2]. So he's doing the right things. He's making plays for other guys."
The problem for Johnson these days is making plays for himself. Even when the openings are there, he can't seem to convert.
And that's where Woodson said he has to help out.
"I've got to find a way to get him some better shots and to get him some more looks at the free-throw line," Woodson said. "Because there's no doubt teams are going to try and knock the starch out of him physically and hope that knocks our entire team off balance. And that is, again, where Joe has to be smart in how he's playing. He has to trust the guys around him and know when to create for them and when he has to attack. And I have the utmost confidence in Joe that he'll do exactly that."
WHAT'S WRONG, CAPTAIN?
Joe Johnson is having a tough month. His scoring average in January is 6.5 points a game less than the previous three months of the season. His shooting percentage is also down nearly 14 percent in the past 13 games. A breakdown of his monthly totals:
Month ....G ....Pts.....FG% ....Reb. ..Ast.
January ..13....16.9... .356....3.9....7.2
NEXT FOR Hawks
* Who: at Knicks
* When: 7:30 p.m. today
* TV; radio: SPSO; 790 AM