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Hawks cautiously encouraged by Johnson's progress

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Hawks guard DerMarr Johnson may be cleared to start practicing as early as Wednesday, six months after cracking four vertebrae in his neck in an automobile accident, the team announced Saturday.

Johnson, 22, was expected to miss the entire season after the accident in south Atlanta on Sept. 13. But he vowed he would return, and the team is optimistic.

Johnson will have another CT scan Sunday or Monday.

"If he's able to practice, we don't know what that means,'' Hawks general manager Pete Babcock said Saturday. "Can he play in a game? Or can he not play in any game this year, only practice? Those are the unknowns. It's all premature. Keep that in mind. But it's encouraging.''

Johnson started 46 games last season and averaged 8.4 points.