Hawks center Clint Capela has been an integral part of the team’s defense this season. So with his return to the rotation, the Hawks have grown a little stronger.
When Capela exited the team’s Dec. 23 matchup against the Pistons with a calf strain, they would go on to lose six of their next 10 games. They would give up on average 15.6 second-chance points, 18.8 fast-break points and 57 points in the paint.
Since Capela’s return to the rotation five games ago, the Hawks have given up 1.6 fewer second-chance points and 2.6 fewer points in transition, but opponents have gotten what they wanted in the paint, where the team has given up 58.4 points.
Of course, Capela’s return to the lineup would not have immediately fixed everything. But his natural instincts as a shot blocker and his presence as a lob threat have provided the Hawks with the stability they needed earlier this month.
“It’s just my voice, the confidence I feel in each of my teammates, whenever I talk defensively, when I give them direction, I can feel that they trust me,” Capela said. “I can feel that I have a big impact defensively, on our switches, rebounding the ball or even impacting blocked shots just by being in the paint. And I can feel that they trust me in that.
“So I also felt that when I wasn’t there, that they needed my help and my impact, it wasn’t there anymore. So it makes me even more miss the game, because I was like, ‘man, I just want to be out there and be dominant in what I do.’ So it just feels good to be back and what I’m doing being impactful.”
Capela and the Hawks wanted to make sure that he did not have any setbacks when he made his return from the calf strain. He originally missed three games after he exited the team’s matchup against the Magic on Dec. 14 in the fourth quarter.
He admits that his return Dec. 23 may have come too soon, so he and the Hawks wanted to make sure that they did everything in the rehab process. In that game against the Pistons, Capela said that his calf felt like something had pulled when he was in a full sprint.
“So, I needed to really work on that strain and everything, and that’s when I knew that I will have to take more time and not rush it,” he said. “Because whenever I’m back, I want to be back healthy. I don’t want to be back limping or still having soreness and stuff. So now, it feels good to be back with no soreness, no hesitation, and keep it up on my maintenance work.”
With five games under his belt since his return Jan. 16, Capela said he feels great. He scored his first basket on a driving layup 30 seconds after checking in off the bench and drew a foul. He had 12 points and six rebounds and has averaged 13.5 points and 8.7 rebounds since.
“It felt normal,” Capela said. “It was more so myself that I was hesitant sometimes, you know, ‘how does it feel?’ But that was actually strong. So yeah, after a couple of games like myself. I feel less and less hesitant now when I’m sprinting.
“Even last game, I had a good, like, fast-break dunk. So now, I feel pretty good. I feel full strength. I’ll keep working on it, like before games, to make sure the strength is there, just as a maintenance work. But other than that, just so happy to be out there with the guys, and I feel ready to go to work.”
After falling to ninth place in the Eastern Conference in the first half of the season, the Hawks look to claw their way back and secure their spot in the playoffs. They currently sit two games behind the Heat, who rank sixth, and see themselves within striking distance of the Knicks, who are just one-half of a game ahead in seventh.
All three teams have won their most-recent games, with the Heat and Knicks both winning two consecutive.
The Hawks have a mostly healthy roster after forward De’Andre Hunter missed the previous two games. But Hawks coach Nate McMillan said that Hunter fully participated in practice Friday, and they would see if he was good to go for Saturday’s game against the Clippers.
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