Nets vs. Hawks preview: Joe Johnson returns to Atlanta

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets are one of the hottest teams in the league, and they face a vulnerable Hawks team on Wednesday as Joe Johnson makes his return to Atlanta.

Not long ago, Joe Johnson was the face of the Atlanta Hawks franchise. Whether he deserved his massive contract or was any more than a talented piece on a team with other All-Star caliber players can be argued.

The man known as Iso-Joe returns to his former stomping grounds on Wednesday with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets, who are currently the hottest team in the NBA. On a seven-game winning streak to start 2013, coach P.J. Carlesimo has the Nets firing on their two most important cylinders -- point guard Deron Williams and Johnson.

Iso-Joe or not, Brooklyn isn't necessarily counting on Johnson to be what Atlanta had hoped.

Still, Johnson was struggling this year. He and Williams are shooting below 44 percent from the field this season, but they've come on during the winning streak. Johnson is averaging 20 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game during the stretch on 47.8 percent shooting, while Williams' shooting has risen to 46.7 percent to go with 19.7 points and 8.1 assists per game.

A dip in nearly every one of Johnson's statistical categories might be misleading, especially when considering that it's taken a few months for a new team to find the right chemistry. It's hard to argue he's not important, however. Johnson is averaging 38.1 minutes per game -- the most since his 2008-09 season -- and is heavily involved in being the lead ball-handler with the Nets' second unit.

And Williams' role has made it OK for Johnson to play sidekick.

That wasn't the case in Atlanta, where expectations were high. Dumping Johnson's salary this summer looked like a great move as the Hawks jumped out to a 19-9 start to the season, but the situation has crumbled of late. The Hawks have gone 2-7 since, and against Brooklyn they won't have leading scorer Josh Smith because of a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.

Atlanta is coming off an embarrassing 97-58 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday.

The Hawks will need available leading scorers in Al Horford (15.4 points per game) and guard Louis Williams (14.6 points per game) to pick up the slack.

And they'll likely see their old leader playing high-efficiency basketball without the heaps of expectations thrust upon his shoulders.

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

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