The Atlanta Hawks have been rolling since Joe Johnson returned to the lineup. They'll have a prime opportunity to continue their win streak against a team they've dominated in recent seasons.
Atlanta seeks its fourth consecutive victory Saturday night when it hosts the Indiana Pacers, whom the Hawks have beaten in eight straight meetings.
Johnson missed nine games from Dec. 1-16 due to an operation on his right elbow expected to keep him out 4-6 weeks. However, Johnson returned almost two weeks earlier than expected and has averaged 20.5 points since Dec. 17.
Much like Johnson, who is averaging 28.7 over his last three games, the Hawks (24-14) seem to be hitting their stride.
Atlanta has won eight of 11 since Johnson came back and won its third straight Wednesday, 110-87 against Utah.
Johnson hit five 3-pointers and finished with 28 points, and the Hawks shot 14 of 25 from 3-point range. It was the most 3s Atlanta hit since making 15 on Nov. 14, 2008, in a loss to New Jersey.
"Joe was on fire tonight," teammate Josh Smith said. "Every 3 was definitely big because it was a momentum killer."
Jamal Crawford added 26 points off the bench, following up his 31-point effort Tuesday against Sacramento. He's averaging 26.8 points and shooting 54.0 percent over his last four.
Smith averages 15.8 points on the season, but he eclipsed that average in both wins against the Pacers. He scored 25 at Indiana on Nov. 16, then netted 21 on Dec. 11.
Indiana's struggles go beyond its difficulty with Atlanta.
The Pacers (14-19) blew a 15-point third-quarter lead Friday and shot only 1 of 15 in the fourth quarter in a 90-87 loss to San Antonio. The one field goal was the fewest they've had in a quarter in the last 19 years.
"I'm very disappointed for our guys," coach Jim O'Brien said. "We played a solid defensive game. For them to come back and beat us, it's painful. They took their defense to a whole different level in the fourth quarter."
Indiana has lost five of six, with the only win in that stretch coming at home Dec. 31 against Eastern Conference-worst Washington, which is winless on the road.
In an attempt to shakeup the rotation, O'Brien gave Tyler Hansbrough his first start of the season and only the second of his career. The change helped the Pacers compete with one of the top teams in the NBA, as Hansbrough set career highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds.
"I think we showed tonight that we can play with the big boys," Darren Collison said. "We had them down and we let them up. We just can't seem to find a way to close a game out. We have to keep working until we get that right."
The Pacers have lost to the Hawks by an average of 10.1 points during the eight-game skid and the last seven matchups in Atlanta by an average of 11.0.
The Hawks have won nine of the last 10 at home in the series.