ATLANTA -- Joe Johnson wasn't about to pretend Philips Arena was simply another venue, particularly with all the fond memories he enjoyed in the building.
Johnson really made a name for himself with the Hawks, leading them to five playoff berths before he was shipped to the Nets in 2012 to be teamed with Deron Williams. So even though the fans boo whenever he returns, just as they did Wednesday night, he can't get enough of the 16-year-old arena.
"It's always going to have a special place," Johnson said before the Nets played the Hawks. "I spent seven years here so I can't say it's just another arena. I'd be telling a lie. But it's always great to come back here and see a lot of familiar faces. A lot of the staff are still here."
Johnson was preparing to do his best to catapult the Nets to their first win of the season, leading them against the team that bounced them out of the playoffs in the first round in April. Wednesday night's meeting was their first matchup since then and Johnson said there were times during the offseason when he pondered what could've been.
The Nets, who were seeded eighth, gave the top-seeded Hawks fits at times and pushed them before running out of gas and dropping the series, 4-2.
"Yeah, an eight seed beating a one seed would've been great," Johnson said. "We had our opportunities, we had our chances in Game 1 and 2 here in Atlanta. We had a chance to win. We gave ourselves a chance, but at the end of the day they were the better team."
Atlanta has most of its pieces back, though DeMarre Carroll is not among them. He signed a four-year, $60-million deal with the Raptors. But Thabo Sefolosha, who didn't play in the playoffs after suffering a broken right leg while getting arrested by NYPD officers in April, is in the mix again.
Nets coach Lionel Hollins didn't notice much difference in this version of the Hawks compared to the Atlanta team trotted out against them in the playoffs.
"Every year personnel changes, but they are the same team," Hollins said. "They put [Kent] Bazemore into Carroll's position. He was the backup last year, now he's starting. They got Thabo Sefolosha back. But their style is more important than individuals. They continue to do what they do. They still have [Jeff] Teague, they still have [Al] Horford, they still have [Paul] Millsap, they still have [Kyle] Korver -- the meat of their group -- and they are still playing the same style."
The Nets shed Williams' contract and got a little younger, dipping the team's average age to 25.8 years old. Last year's team averaged 28.1. They have struggled early, losing their first four games by a combined 59 points.
But Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he sees comparisons between this season's Nets team and the one from 2014.
"It's so early in the year and all of us are trying to figure out ourselves and what good can we carry over and what can we improve," Budenholzer said. "I think with Brook Lopez, and Thaddeus [Young], and Joe Johnson and those guys, and Jarrett Jack is a guy that can step in. So I think there are some similarities."