Coach McMillan entered the preseason preaching about conditioning and chemistry. Unfortunately, the Hawks haven't been able to work on either as much as he would like due to injuries.
The preseason got off to an inauspicious start when the Miami Heat ran the Hawks off the floor in a lopsided 125-99 loss. Trae Young exited the game early after suffering a bruise to his right quad. Luckily, the injury was minor and the All-Star point guard will make his return tonight.
However, the Heat exposed the Hawks lack of conditioning. NBA fans are tired of hearing about 'Heat Culture,' but there is a lot of truth to the system Heat President Pat Riley and Coach Erik Spoelstra have crafted over the years. You will not find a roster that's in better shape than the Heat.
That is one of the reasons why I believe the Heat will be the Hawks fiercest competition throughout the regular season. Last year, the Hawks narrowly won the Southeast Division for the first time since 2015. The scrappy underdogs finished one game ahead of the Heat, who spent the summer reloading with veterans.
Preseason games do not predetermine how a team will do in the regular season. Championships are not won or lost before Halloween. We still haven't gotten a true look at the Hawks over the previous three exhibition games. Hopefully, tonight things will become a little clearer.
The Heat enter State Farm Arena on Thursday night with a preseason record of 4-0. However, their unblemished record should change after tonight, as most of their key players will not be playing in their penultimate preseason game.
Additionally, Hawks Coach Nate McMillan should have most of his roster available. For the past few days, he has stated his plans to treat tonight as a "dress rehearsal." That means the rotation should tighten up, and keen observers will notice when they run more of their usual schemes.
Tonight is just a glorified scrimmage, so the goals should remain the same for the Hawks - improve conditioning and chemistry. This time next week, they will be preparing to tip off the regular season against the Dallas Mavericks on national television.
The team will have a bullseye on their back for the entire regular season. They have caught the attention and ire of the league. No one will cut the Hawks any slack for Clint Capela's nagging Achilles injury, rules changes that limit Trae Young, or the development of Cam Reddish. Tonight will be a good dress rehearsal, but following the game's completion is when the real work begins.