The good news of Al Horford's return to the Atlanta Hawks' starting lineup was tempered this week by the absence of All-Star Joe Johnson, who's sat out the past two games with flulike symptoms.Marvin Williams has made sure Johnson hasn't been missed too much.
Two of Williams' finest performances of the season have lifted the Hawks to consecutive victories, and they hope to have Johnson back as they try to make it three in a row Saturday against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.
The Hawks (29-20) were without Horford for 12 games from Jan. 11-31, and went 5-7 without their top rebounder, who was suffering from a bone bruise in his right knee.
Horford returned on Wednesday in Minnesota, but Johnson stayed home with the flu, ending his streak of 129 consecutive starts. Horford was limited to four points and six rebounds in 25 minutes due to foul trouble, but Williams stepped up. The fourth-year forward had 23 points and 10 rebounds and got to the basket at will, hitting 11-of-14 free throws in the Hawks' 94-86 win.
Williams was at it again Friday at Charlotte with Johnson out, scoring 29 points and making 18 of 20 free throws. It wasn't easy though - Williams played through severe cramps in rallying the Hawks from a 17-point deficit to win 102-97, and was unable to talk to reporters after the comeback.
"Marvin took over for us," said Horford, who had five points and four rebounds in 30 minutes. "He really was aggressive going to the rim and getting fouled."
Coach Mike Woodson said he's holding out hope that Johnson, averaging a team-high 21.5 points, can return on Saturday.
"He's feeling better, but we won't know his status until we get back (to Atlanta)," Woodson said. "He doesn't miss too many games, so he had to be pretty sick."
The Hawks are 18-5 at home, but they'll return to Philips Arena on Saturday having split their last six games on their own floor.
The Clippers (11-39) have two more games to go on a season-high seven game road trip. They were barely competitive in their first four games - losing them by an average of 20.3 points - as their overall losing streak reached seven.
Friday night in Memphis, however, the Clippers were on the winning end of a blowout. Los Angeles hit a franchise-record 16 3-pointers - six by Ricky Davis - and routed the Grizzlies 126-105.
"I think our strong suit is just being able to get up and down and see how many points we can score," guard Baron Davis said. "We don't pride ourselves on our defense. So, we have to be able to score a lot of points."
Ricky Davis finished with 24 points and Eric Gordon had 23, but it was Zach Randolph's performance that really stood out. The mercurial power forward had 35 points and 10 rebounds in just his third game back after missing more than a month due to a bruised left knee.
Randolph also made 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, a career high.
Together with Marcus Camby, who recently returned from a sprained left ankle, the Clippers have one of the league's top rebounding duos. Camby is second in the league on the boards, pulling down 12.9 per game, while Randolph averages 10.8.
They'll be challenged by Horford (8.5 rpg) and Josh Smith (7.5), and Smith has particularly enjoyed facing the Clippers. The 2005 slam dunk champion averaged 22.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in his last four games against Los Angeles, including 27 points in the Hawks' 97-80 win at Staples Center on Jan. 14.