They look pretty good without him now, moving the ball, spreading the wealth, becoming a much-less predictable team.
The Hawks (14-8) are 3-1 in Johnson's absence, which is expected to last another 4-5 weeks as he recovers from elbow surgery. Included in that stretch was a 80-74 victory Monday night in Orlando, where the Hawks had lost six consecutive games (a combination of regular season and playoffs) with Johnson dominating the ball.
"We have to do things a little differently without Joe here,'' said first-year Hawks coach Larry Drew, who has been preaching a more balanced attack and sharing the ball this season, even before Johnson had left. "We're trying to get more guys involved. And that can be a good thing. We're less predictable. We miss him, but we've still got the pieces to make it work without him.''
In the Johnson-less streak, the Hawks also beat Memphis and Philadelphia. They lost at Miami Saturday night, 89-77, but they played the Heat close until the final few minutes.
Without Johnson, the four-time All-Star, it usually means more shots for Josh Smith and Al Horford. They scored 19 and 16 points, respectively, Monday night. It also means more opportunities for guards Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby, who had 15 and 13 points, respectively.
"Joe Johnson is still the top dog, the franchise player here, but when he's not here, opponents don't know who to key on,'' Crawford said. "We can learn some things from this stretch that will make us better when he comes back.''
The Hawks were swept by the Magic in the second round of the playoffs last spring -- by an average of 25 points -- and it cost coach Mike Woodson his job. His offensive philosophy always revolved around Johnson, the team's leading scorer the past four years.
It was Johnson, though, who let down Woodson in that playoff series, struggling badly against the Magic. And when he did, the Hawks had nowhere else to go.
Drew, once an assistant for Woodson, has been preaching more ball movement, which is why Johnson is still leading the Hawks in scoring but his average has dipped from 21.3 points to 17.1 this season.
"This was a big win for us, a real confidence boost. We've been in a drought here. They've basically owned us,'' Drew said. "I don't know if this breaks a spell or not, but I think our guys can learn from this, and the way we want to play.''
In the four games without Johnson, the Hawks have had three different leading scorers. Al Horford, Marvin Williams and Josh Smith have taken turns with scoring honors.
"If we keep playing this way, we have the potential to be among the top teams in the East,'' said Horford. "In the fourth quarter, teams always expected Joe to have the ball. Now they don't know who is going to beat them. I hope we learn from this. Joe will understand because he wants to win. The pressure won't always be on him.''
The Hawks also experimented with a new and considerably bigger starting lineup Monday night that included Marvin Williams (6-9) at shooting guard, Josh Smith (6-9) at small forward, Horford (6-10) at power forward and Jason Collins (7-0) at center. And it worked well against Dwight Howard and the Magic.
They played deliberately, shuffling in four different centers against Howard, who was held to just 14 points, showing some obvious frustration with the way the Hawks were playing him.
The Magic (15-6) had a totally different take on Monday night's game. They got three of their four stomach-flu casualties back in the lineup, but their games didn't return.
They lost in Milwaukee Saturday night without Howard, but they looked awful with him on Monday. The Magic shot just 37.8 percent from the field. Howard had 13 rebounds and 14 points, but he was hounded by the Hawks' defense.
"It was a bad game, and we were worse than they were,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "We were just awful tonight. We didn't play the way we need to play. Just a bad night for us.''
The Hawks, meanwhile, are home against New Jersey Tuesday night, buoyed by their recent play. They have improved their record in each of the last four years, and the loss of Johnson hasn't changed their hopes of making that five consecutive years.
"We have what it takes to be a good team if we just keep all this in focus,'' Smith said. "If we play the right way, defend like we should, we'll be all right. We have a chance to keep this going.''