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Are Hawks part of elite in East?
Hawks 3 col BW
Atlanta Hawks forward Joe Johnson , center, puts up a shot between Boston Celtics guards Ray Allen, right, and Rajon Rondo (9) during the second half of agame in Boston on Jan. 11. Johnson had 36 points as the Hawks defeated the Celtics 102-96. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks are trying to show they belong with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.

A four-game sweep of the Boston Celtics would be an impressive way to make the statement.

The Hawks will try to complete the regular-season sweep of the Celtics on Friday night. They will play another important conference game Saturday at Orlando.

The Hawks, fourth in the Eastern Conference last season, are contending with the Celtics and Magic for second place behind Cleveland.

Joe Johnson and Al Horford were selected as Eastern Conference All-Star reserves on Thursday.

Horford, averaging 13.6 points and 9.8 rebounds, will make his first All-Star appearance. He finished third in voting for Eastern Conference centers.

"When you start the season you set goals for yourself," Horford said. "That's definitely one of them."

Johnson, who leads the team with 21.3 points per game, will make his fourth straight appearance.

The Hawks have two All-Star selections for the first time since 1998. They hoped Crawford, second on the team with 17.4 points per game, and Smith also would receive consideration from the Eastern Conference head coaches.

Atlanta had won six of seven before a humbling 105-90 loss at San Antonio on Wednesday night. The Hawks reviewed game film of the loss Thursday but were eager to look ahead to the Celtics.

"I don't think they look at us as a rivalry yet, but I think that they totally see that they can see us down the line," Atlanta's Jamal Crawford said Thursday. "They want to send a message and we want to continue to play well against them."

The Hawks' last season sweep of the Celtics came with three wins in 1998-99. Their last 4-0 sweep was in the 1995-96 season.

Crawford said a sweep of the Celtics would help prove the Hawks belong with the top teams in the conference.

"That would be a big statement because everybody had us the fourth-best team but now we're right there in the mix with the top three," Crawford said. "It will be interesting to see what happens."

Josh Smith said the Hawks can't assume regular-season success will provide any postseason guarantees should they face the Celtics again.

"If you get swept in a season, it really doesn't matter because teams step up their level of play in the postseason," Smith said. "You really can't gauge anything as a measuring stick if we're able to accomplish anything. We have to look at it as another stepping stone to stay ahead in our division."

The Hawks are 0-2 against Orlando.

This will be the second time this month the Hawks will have faced the Celtics and Magic on consecutive days. The Hawks beat Boston on Jan. 8 in Atlanta and lost at Orlando the next day. After one day off, the Hawks won at Boston on Jan. 11 — their third straight win over the Celtics.

The Hawks have been on a steady upswing under coach Mike Woodson, improving their win total five straight seasons since a 13-69 low mark in 2004-05. They ended a nine-year playoff drought by pushing the Celtics to seven games in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, and they advanced to the second round last season before being swept by Cleveland.

Woodson has the Hawks aiming for a division title.

"We're still a young team, in terms of winning and losing," Woodson said recently. "We're still learning to win at a high level. Teams that do that, they win 50-plus games.

"We're not quite there yet but I like the direction we're headed in. ... When we're committed and we come to play we can beat anybody."