- Associated Press - Friday, December 17, 2010

ATLANTA (AP) - Hawks star Joe Johnson returned to Atlanta’s starting lineup Friday night after missing nine games recovering from surgery on his right elbow.

Johnson was initially expected to be out four to six weeks, but he returned less than three weeks after the procedure to remove loose cartilage in his shooting elbow.

The All-Star guard tested the elbow in pregame warmups and decided he was ready to play against the Charlotte Bobcats, hoping to help the Hawks snap a two-game skid.

"The therapy just went great, the swelling’s gone down," Johnson said. "I’ve been shooting without pain and it’s been feeling great. I just didn’t feel like it was necessary to wait another two weeks and leave the guys hanging out there like that, man, when I could get out there and give them everything I’ve got."

The Hawks lost some ground in the standings while Johnson was out, going 5-4 to slip three games behind streaking Miami in the Southeast Division.

Even with the return of its leading scorer, Atlanta was still not at full strength against the Bobcats. Sixth man Jamal Crawford missed his second straight game with a sore back.

"I think our energy’s been there. We’ve been playing hard, we’ve just been short-handed," Johnson said. "That’s kind of the way it is. It happens throughout the season. We’ve just got to play with what you’ve got."

At least the Hawks have their top player again.

"Now that it’s out of the way, we can get back to playing basketball, just try to get into a rhythm as a basketball team," Johnson said. "Just see what we have."


AP freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.

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