Notes From Hawks Practice: Atlanta Building Momentum as Huerter Nears Return

Ben Ladner

It’s remarkable how much a single victory can do for the psyche of a struggling team, and Tuesday afternoon the Hawks’ collective spirit seemed to have been lifted after Monday evening’s win. As Lloyd Pierce and Trae Young addressed the media on Tuesday, the rest of the Hawks jovially went through post-practice workouts and shooting drills while both Young and Pierce seemed relieved to have finally put a 10-game win streak behind them.

Atlanta will aim for its second consecutive win on Wednesday as the Brooklyn Nets visit State Farm Arena before the team heads out on a three-game road trip. Here’s what else stood out from Tuesday’s practice:

Injury Updates

De’Andre Hunter suffered a scary – and quite painful – injury to his right index finger late in the Hawks’ win over Golden State, but there appears to be no damage to the rookie’s shooting hand. Hunter didn’t participate much in practice Tuesday but said after the game that he doesn’t expect to miss any games, and Pierce declared Hunter probable for Wednesday’s game.

“He says he’s playing tomorrow,” Pierce said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Missing Hunter for any amount of time would certainly dampen the Hawks’ newfound joy at least a little bit. Atlanta is already down two starters and is running out of replacement options. Allen Crabbe, who missed Monday’s game with an illness underwent a non-surgical procedure on his right knee Tuesday morning and will not play against his former team on Wednesday. There is no announced targeted return date. Crabbe had been an increasingly prominent part of Pierce’s rotation in Kevin Huerter’s absence.

Huerter, meanwhile, has ramped up his activity level, participating in full-court four-on-four games with John Collins and members of the coaching staff Tuesday afternoon. Huerter has missed 11 games with a strained left rotator cuff and while he won’t play against Brooklyn, could return as early as Sunday in Charlotte.

John Collins has nine games remaining on a 25-game suspension, but has been participating in practices, scrimmages, and other team activities during his absence. Though he hasn’t stepped on an NBA court in nearly a month, Collins has worked hard to remain in game condition. It’s difficult to replicate NBA speed and timing with assistant coaches, but Pierce expects him to return to action in shape and ready to play hard.

“From my perspective, one excuse I will not tolerate is conditioning. He should be in excellent shape when he comes back. Timing and active bodies and active hands around him will be an issue. The game is faster, the bodies are longer. It’s going to take him a little bit to adjust to that. But conditioning shouldn’t be an issue.”

Pierce also noted that Collins had “a great five-on-five workout” last week in Indiana. “He’s working extremely hard,” Young said. “I don’t expect any type of dropoff.”

Carrying Monday’s Momentum Forward

Throughout their losing streak, Hawks players and coaches said they weren’t dwelling on the mounting losses, but rather looking forward and finding a way to get back into the win column. But even Pierce and Young admitted some relief over finally winning again.

“I thought the win was good just because of the streak,” Pierce said. “It’s no secret, once you lose 10 in a row your spirit gets dampened a little bit.” 

Neither dwelled too heavily on the win, either, emphasizing instead that the team should view it as a building block rather than a goal reached.

“We haven’t felt that in a long time, so it’s good to get that feeling again,” Young said. “But also we got in here today and got some work in. Nobody is satisfied with just winning one game, but that’s a great thing to have.”

“I just thought from a spirit standpoint, from an energy standpoint, just to get that out of the way and now we can continue to what we were doing, which was trending upward and trying to focus on that,” Pierce said.

But talking about building on a win and actually doing it are separate things, and it can be difficult for young teams to sustain focus and execution from game to game. Atlanta knows that, and hopes to find consistency in the coming weeks now that its most difficult stretch of games is in the past.

“You’ve just got to play with the same energy, the same effort,” Young said. “The way we played last game with the energy, the mindset we had, as far as just wanting to be aggressive but also play hard and smart on defense. I think if you attack the game with that type of mindset that’s carrying over to the next game.”

Getting their full complement will not only help the Hawks in sustaining their energy and discipline, but simply give them more talent with which to work. Young has faced singular and unrelenting pressure without viable secondary playmakers around him while Pierce has been forced to cobble together unstable rotations with unfamiliar and limited players.

The NBA season is long and merciless, but the Hawks’ schedule, on paper, only gets easier from here. A win over the league’s worst team is nothing to celebrate, but Atlanta feels as though a weight has been removed and it can finally proceed as it planned.

“I see big potential,” Young said. “It’s different whenever you don’t have all your pieces and it’s hard to really judge. But whenever we did have them, I think we were playing really well. … It happens, and we’ve still got a long way to go in the season.”