Hawks upgrade starter ahead of critical showdown vs Bulls

The Atlanta Hawks are getting one of their injured starters back for a critical contest after upgrading his status.
Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder
Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks (34-40) are getting a key contributor back at a critical time of the season.

Their showdown against the Chicago Bulls lost a little steam with the latter’s victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 31, eliminating the possibility of the Hawks overtaking the Bulls for ninth in the Easter Conference standings.

The best the Hawks can come away with is a half-game deficit. But every little bit helps at this point of the season, and they get help toward achieving that goal.

Third-year forward Jalen Johnson is set to return to the court, per The Athletic's Shams Charania on April 1. Johnson was listed as “questionable” on the March 31 injury report.

Johnson, 22, is averaging 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists this season. He has missed six straight games and nine of the last 12 outings with an ankle injury. Getting him back would be a boon for a Hawks team still missing star point guard Trae Young and top backup center Onyeka Okongwu.

The Hawks first updated Johnson on March 29. But he remained out for their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 30.

Perhaps the additional rest will be enough to get him back on the floor.

Johnson averaged 23.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 blocks, and 1.0 steals in his last three games, which came after a three-game absence with the same injury. This injury, plus his wrist injury from earlier in the season, has left him ineligible for postseason awards.

That means Johnson’s strong season won’t be in consideration for Most Improved Player, though he and the Hawks would surely be just as happy to have him back healthy.

The Hawks welcome a Bulls team on the second leg of a back-to-back.

Hawks host Bulls for critical showdown in Play-In Tournament race

They are also traveling following a hard-fought comeback victory over the Timberwolves. The Bulls have also taken the first two meetings between these two teams. However, the Bulls’ average margin of victory has been just 7.5 points.

And while the Bulls have won two of their last three games, they are just 2-4 in their last six contests.

This matchup also serves as a preview of a likely first-round Play-In Tournament matchup.

The Hawks are simply trying to wrestle homecourt away from the Bulls for that matchup. They lost their meeting versus Chicago in Atlanta in February. But the Hawks are 20-18 at home compared to 14-22 on the road.

The Hawks’ ample injury woes have impacted them in either instance. But they would do well to ensure another home game in their efforts to make the playoffs.

Working against the Hawks is a more difficult closing slate than the Bulls, per Tankathon.

So while a win over the Bulls on Monday won’t flip the standings in the Hawks’ favor, it will help their push to do so. And getting Johnson back, even in a limited capacity for this contest, could be an emotional boost as much as a physical one.