Joe Johnson may miss the rest of the season for Atlanta. That should make it much easier for the Chicago Bulls to continue a nearly three-year run of success against the Hawks.
The Bulls look to extend a 10-game winning streak against the lowly Hawks when the teams conclude their season series Sunday.
Chicago (43-31) has won 10 straight meetings -- including three this season -- against Atlanta (27-46) since a 116-101 loss on April 9, 2004. The Bulls are averaging 102.9 points while holding the Hawks to 91.3 in those contests.
In the three victories over the Hawks this season, Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich is averaging 17.3 points while shooting 54.5 percent from the field, including 5-for-7 on 3-pointers.
Johnson, averaging 22.8 in his last six contests against Chicago, has missed 12 straight games with a strained left calf and Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said his leading scorer could miss the team's final nine games.
"He just got off crutches. We're not going to rush him back," Woodson said.
Chicago will try to take advantage of undermanned, last-place Atlanta and bounce back from a 112-108 overtime loss to Cleveland on Saturday.
The Bulls have clinched a playoff spot and own the third-best record in the East, but would be seeded fifth if the playoffs started today because the three division winners are guaranteed spots in the top four playoff seeds.
They are four games behind first-place Detroit in the Central Division, and 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the best record among non-division leaders, making Saturday's loss to the Cavaliers a damaging one.
"There are some mental situations out there where our focus is not exactly where it needed to be in a game like this," Chicago coach Scott Skiles said.
The Bulls lost despite 37 points from Ben Gordon, who is averaging 27.0 over his last five games. The guard managed only six points, however, the last time Chicago faced the Hawks -- a 106-81 Bulls victory on Feb. 20.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has lost five straight games and seven of eight. Its only win in that stretch was 99-76 over Sacramento on March 19.
The Hawks' latest loss came Wednesday night, 101-87 at Charlotte. The Bobcats lead Atlanta by one game at the bottom of the Southeast Division.
"Our team was considered a young team that plays hard, but in the last few games, we haven't played that hard, I don't think," Woodson said
Josh Smith had 25 points and 15 rebounds, but also five turnovers for the Hawks, who shot just 40.0 percent from the field and committed 22 turnovers.
Smith is averaging a career-high 15.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and has increased his scoring mark to 22.0 points over his last five games as he takes more of the scoring load without Johnson.
Before his injury in a loss at Miami on March 5, Johnson was averaging 25.0 points and became the first Hawks player in five years to be named to the All-Star team.