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Joe Johnson returns, Hawks beat Bobcats 90-85

Joe Johnson scored 16 points in his return to the Hawks' lineup, Al Horford assisted on a crucial basket by Marvin Williams with just over a minute remaining, and Atlanta held off the Charlotte Bobcats 90-85 Friday night.

Johnson was back on the court only 2½ weeks after undergoing elbow surgery that was supposed to keep him out for at least a month. He hit two free throws to help seal the victory with 24 seconds remaining.

With the Hawks clinging to an 82-79 edge and the 24-second clock winding down, Horford wound up with the ball at the top of the key, looking around desperately for an open man. He spotted Williams underneath, feeding him the pass for an easy lay-in with 1 second left on the shot clock.

Boris Diaw and D.J. Augustin led the Bobcats with 22 points apiece. Charlotte shot just 38 percent from the field.

Johnson, wearing a thick, white sleeve on his right arm, struggled a bit with his shooting touch — not surprising given he underwent surgery Dec. 2 to remove loose cartilage from his elbow. But his return clearly sparked the Hawks, and he contributed in ways beyond scoring, doling out eight assists and grabbing five rebounds.

Horford and Williams also scored 16 points each, while Josh Smith had 12 and Mike Bibby 10 to put all five Atlanta starters in double figures.

Charlotte was still without one of its top players. Gerald Wallace missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle, and the Bobcats continued to struggle offensively. They have averaged just over 83 points a game while losing four of five, a slide that has led coach Larry Brown to question the desire of his underachieving team.

The Hawks led all the way, scoring the first eight points, but they never pushed the margin higher than 12. Atlanta got a boost at the end of the third quarter when Jeff Teague drove toward the side of the lane against Sherron Collins and flipped up a towering shot that dropped through at the buzzer, pushing the lead to 68-58.

Charlotte's Stephen Jackson left late in the first quarter with a strained elbow, but returned in the second half. He never found his shot, going 3 of 14 from the field to finish with nine points. After Williams' key basket, Jackson threw up a wild 3-pointer that missed badly.

The Hawks stretched their home winning streak to six in a row — all against teams with losing records.

NOTES: Atlanta was still without sixth man Jamal Crawford, who missed his second straight game with a sore back. ... The Hawks have won seven straight against the Bobcats at Philips Arena. ... The crowd was announced at 15,006 but there appeared to be no more than 10,000 fans actually in the building.