Hawks look forward to better health, easier schedule

Guard Joe Johnson felt even better once he compared Atlanta’s finishing slate with those of the other teams vying for position in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“I think we are in favor coming down the stretch as far as other teams we are competing with,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We just have to come out and take care of business.”

The Hawks (31-23) entered Tuesday in sixth place in the East, where teams three through seven were separated by just 2 1/2 games. And Johnson is probably right that, among those teams, the Hawks have the relatively easiest schedule.

The combined winning percentage of Hawks remaining opponents entering Tuesday (.429) was the lowest of the top eight teams in the East. They had the second-fewest games remaining (12) among the group, including eight at home.

There will be a lot of volatility with the standings because the teams clustered together in the standings all play several games against one another. The Hawks, though, are finished playing East leaders Miami and Chicago and have two games each remaining against last-place Charlotte and 10th-place Toronto.

“Everybody is right there,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “This thing is going to jump around from now until the end the way we are all bunched up. ... It’s going to be interesting how this thing shakes loose.”

The Hawks are looking forward to better health for the final push.

Backup point guard Jannero Pargo, out since a March 18 appendectomy, returned to practice and is expected to play against Charlotte on Wednesday at Philips Arena. Pargo has missed the past 10 games, prompting Drew to split time at point guard between starter Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich, who also is the starting shooting guard.

Reserve forward Vladimir Radmanovic, who has missed seven of the past 10 games with a troublesome back, isn’t expected to play Wednesday. But he could return soon after he participated in a portion of practice Tuesday and reported to Drew that he feels much better.

Even center Al Horford got in some practice time for the first time since Jan. 17 pectoral surgery. He’s still not expected to play for the balance of the regular season, but he participated in the non-contact portions of Tuesday’s workout.

Johnson said Horford’s presence and the return of Pargo contributed to a positive vibe at practice.

“It feels great, man,” he said. “To see Al out here competing and having fun, I think it gives everybody some energy and some hope, and hopefully we can get him back.”

The Hawks’ spirits also benefited from two days off, a rare extended respite from the compressed schedule. They played 19 games in 30 days from March 2 through Saturday.

Though the Hawks have lost three of their past four games, Johnson said he feels positive about the team in light of a series of injuries during a taxing schedule.

“We’ve managed to hold our own,” he said. “We’ve got 12 games left and we have got to try to close them out, take them one at a time and position ourselves for a good postseason.”

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