After spending nearly every moment of the past three weeks plotting his return from a high ankle sprain, the last thing Hawks forward Josh Smith wants to do tonight is rush things. It won't be easy for Smith, the Hawks' emotional and impulsive fifth-year power forward.
His 12-game absence has made him eager to get back into the mix with his teammates against the Memphis Grizzlies at Philips Arena, but Smith knows better than to try to do more than his body will allow.
"That's the big emphasis right now --- to try not to overdo it because I'm so excited to be back," Smith said. "That's just a part of listening to your body and knowing how many minutes your body can take the first night back. And I won't lie --- my body will have to tell me, because in my mind, I want it all back right now."
That he'll make his first start since Nov. 7 against the Grizzlies comes with an added twist. The Grizzlies are the team that put forth the five-year, $58 million offer sheet in August that allowed the Hawks to keep him. The Hawks matched the offer before the night ended.
"That is sort of crazy when you think about it," Smith said, and then smiled. "They're the ones that made things happen for me this summer. It is ironic that I'm coming back against them."
Smith played well in the Hawks' first four games, all victories, averaging 12 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.3 steals.
It wasn't easy watching, though, particularly the rematch game in Boston on Nov. 12. He also had to watch the first few road games he missed from home, as he was not allowed to travel with the team while his ankle healed.
It wasn't clear how much he was missed until the Hawks endured a four-game losing streak, with teams attacking them inside knowing the shot-blocking terror was nowhere around.
"You're talking about missing one of the leading shot-blockers in the league and probably the best athlete in the league," Hawks captain Joe Johnson said. "That takes away from our versatility because he can play out on the perimeter and inside and he can put the ball on the floor and go to the basket and create for others, plus the rebounding and defense. That's a huge loss.
"It's going to take us a few games, but as we get him back, we should get things back on track."
Hawks coach Mike Woodson said he's not sure how long it will take Smith to get back to full speed. There was even some question as to whether coming back against the Grizzlies was too soon, the initial diagnosis having called for him to miss from two to four weeks.
He's back five days into his fourth week, which is roughly three weeks later than Smith would have liked.
"We're going to monitor his minutes," Woodson said. "I just have to see how he responds early and keep an eye on him from there, because you always have to be careful in these situations that you're not pushing a guy too hard, too fast.
"What I do know is he's a competitor, and he's going to want to be out there every minute he can. And you've got to respect a guy who plays with that kind of attitude."
Make no mistake about it, Smith's fiery attitude, as well as the other things he brings, has been sorely missed.
"You're definitely missed when you're gone," said Smith, who has had to endure daily quizzes from his teammates about when he would return. "It's the same thing we went through when Joe went out with that calf injury a couple of years ago. ... I think we understood what he brought to our team, the offense he generated and him basically being the catalyst for everything. We missed him terribly when he was out.
"When you get that guy back, though, it makes you that much more explosive. That's the impact I'm trying to have, in time."
NEXT FOR Hawks
* Who: vs. Grizzlies
* When: 7 p.m. today
* TV; radio: None; 790 AM