The last thing the New Jersey Nets need during a playoff race is an injury to a key player.The Nets could be without point guard Devin Harris on Wednesday night when they host the Atlanta Hawks, the team directly ahead of them in the standings and holder of the eighth and final playoff spot in the crowded Eastern Conference.
Harris left in the second quarter of New Jersey's 112-96 loss at Chicago on Tuesday night with a sprained right ankle. Heading into the contest, Harris was averaging 16.6 points and 5.6 assists in his previous nine games with New Jersey since being acquired from Dallas.
Harris' ankle was swollen after the game, but X-rays taken were negative and he will be evaluated daily.
Losing Harris for any extended amount of time could be costly for the ninth-place Nets (28-39), who trail Atlanta by one game in the race for the East's final playoff spot. Tuesday's loss also left New Jersey just one game ahead of Chicago in the conference standings.
The Nets, however, will try for a third straight home victory over the Hawks (29-38) while looking to win the season series between the teams. New Jersey won the first two meetings against Atlanta in 2007-08, but the Hawks won 104-92 at home over the Nets on Feb. 2, and come into Wednesday's contest looking for their fourth consecutive victory overall.
The Hawks, who are coming off a 105-96 win at Washington on Monday, are trying to reach the postseason for first time since 1998-99.
"I think our chances are good. It's in our hands," said Hawks guard Mike Bibby, who had 23 points against the Wizards. "You never really want to leave it up to anybody else to try to get into the playoffs. I want to impress upon these guys that it's there for us to take and we've got to go do it."
This will be the first time the Hawks will face New Jersey with Bibby, who is averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 assists in 18 games since being picked up from Sacramento. He is averaging 17.1 points and 6.3 assists in 17 career games versus the Nets.
"He's starting to get comfortable with our players, and they're starting to get comfortable with him," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said.
Joe Johnson had 18 points and 10 assists for his second straight double-double Monday as the Hawks shot 55.4 percent. Atlanta is shooting 54.5 percent during its three-game winning streak.
Johnson, who is averaging 27.8 points and shooting 50.3 percent in his last nine contests, looks to finally break out against the Nets after averaging 11.3 points on 29.8-percent shooting in three games versus them this season.
Vince Carter had 22 points and Richard Jefferson added 21 as New Jersey whittled a 24-point Chicago lead down to nine in the fourth quarter Tuesday, but couldn't get any closer in losing for the seventh time in nine contests.
"Very disappointing, our effort," Carter said. "We're playing for more than just to end the season this year - we're playing to continue our season. We can't have these type of showings if you want to make the playoffs."
Jefferson is averaging a team-leading 22.9 points per game overall and 23.0 in three games versus Atlanta this season.