Notes From Practice: Huerter Remains Out as Rotation Continues to Shift

Ben Ladner

The most notable development surrounding the Hawks Tuesday was that Kevin Huerter, who has missed the last seven games with a strained left rotator cuff, has been cleared for increased basketball activity but will not play on the Hawks' road trip this week. 

Atlanta will take on the Bucks, Pacers, and Rockets over the next four days and try to snap out of a seven-game losing streak that has sunk the team to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. 

Huerter will be an important part of whatever success the Hawks have once he returns, but Atlanta will have to trudge on without him for the foreseeable future. 

A few more notes from Hawks' practice Tuesday afternoon:

Defensive rebounding remains a concern

The Hawks' defensive rebounding issues can't be pinned entirely on one factor or another. Pierce has offered effort, experience, and active perimeter defense as possible reasons why the team has struggled on the glass, and the team could stand to improve in all three areas. Atlanta was exploited on the defensive glass again on Monday as Karl-Anthony Towns grabbed five offensive rebounds and the Hawk bigs could do little to impede him. 

"When you go against guys like that, they're going to look and say, 'This is a personal challenge and I can win this one-on-one battle," Pierce said. "It's not scoring or anything else, it's effort. 

Trae Young is supremely skilled at creating scoring opportunities in transition, but when the Hawks can't push off of misses and start nearly every possession taking the ball out of the basket, it limits how effective Young and the rest of the team can be. 

"I think we're pretty good when we can get out and run. That's when Trae is at his best, before the defense is set. ... It's a freer offense. ... We have to have easy opportunities, whether it's offensive rebounds, getting to the free-throw line, or playing before the defense is set."

Collins scrimmaged with Chandler Parsons, Tyrone Wallace, Alex Len, and the Hawks' coaching staff (not including Pierce) after practice. He has been involved at an almost-normal level in practices since his suspension began, participating in drills and five-on-five runs.

The center rotation remains in flux

Pierce is still trying to find the right balance of minutes with Collins not available. Jabari Parker spent significant time at center late in Monday's loss while Len played only four minutes. Bruno Fernando, who played four games in the last four days between the NBA and the G-League, gave the Hawks 17 solid minutes against Minnesota, and Pierce was pleased with what he saw.

"I thought his first half yesterday was pretty good. I thought he was aggressive going to the offensive glass. I thought he played physical defending [Towns] in the post, and it was nice to see him make a 3 in the second half as well."

Pierce is still trying to settle on what his rotation should look like, not only in the frontcourt but in the guard rotation as well. "I apologized to Evan Turner because I'm trying to get him more minutes and trying to figure out how to use him. He's a new player, still, for me... So as we're inserting him back in and trying to find ways to use him -- can he play with Trae, can he play as a backup point guard, should I use him as a four -- and in that confusion you just end up shorting his minutes."

"With Alex, Damian's been starting for us, we split time with him and Bruno. I thought Bruno was good, which is why I went with him longer.

"I'm already spinning my head trying to figure out when Kevin comes back, how that's going to affect some of the wings on the perimeter. Allen's minutes are going up, I'm trying to find minutes for Evan, and then Kevin's gonna join the mix. And so that's going to impact someone else's minutes, and that's what's happening right now with Alex." 

How do the Hawks push through their losing streak?

Atlanta has lost its last seven and 13 out of its last 15 games. That weighs on a team, no matter how young or how optimistic it is. The Hawks are clearly frustrated, and have admitted as much, but remain confident they will move through their rough patch and find their stride. 

"It's a bad feeling losing like this," Young said. "We're not even a quarter of the way in, so it's not something we can jump to conclusions about." 

"Just take it day by day," Parker said. "The more we get out there with each other, the better we'll be." 

After struggling mightily at the beginning of games, the Hawks have started each of the last three games well, but lost their momentum by the fourth quarter in each of their last three losses. Both Young and Pierce have pinned the team's late lapses on discipline and effort, each of which has visibly waned at moments this season. 

"We've done a better job starting out better, I think it's just playing a full 48 minutes," Young said. "We just haven't had a full, complete game here recently, and it's shown." 

Atlanta takes on Milwaukee Wednesday evening at 8:00 E.T. The Hawks looked feisty the first time they took on Milwaukee last Wednesday, but a breakthrough will be hard to achieve against perhaps the best team -- and best player -- in the NBA. 

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