Hunter excited about return to Hawks’ lineup

Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter and Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann go after a rebound during the first half Monday, March 22, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP)
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Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter and Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann go after a rebound during the first half Monday, March 22, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP)

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

De’Andre Hunter returned to the Hawks’ lineup Monday, playing 20 minutes in the team’s 119-110 loss against the Clippers.

Hunter had missed 23 games after exiting the Hawks’ win in Washington Jan. 29. He underwent a lateral meniscus debridement procedure Feb. 8 and has been steadily recovering ever since.

“I’m in good spirits right now, definitely,” Hunter said Monday afternoon before the nine-point defeat.

Hunter was listed as questionable on the team’s injury report for the Clippers game, but eventually saw his first action in nearly two months and scored eight points as the team had its eight-game winning streak snapped. Hunter said his pain began when he came down from a dunk in that win vs. Washington.

“I just dunked, and when I landed, I didn’t feel right,” Hunter said. “It didn’t really pop or anything, it just, it didn’t feel right and when I tried to start playing again it was stiff and I couldn’t really move it. So I knew it wasn’t minor.”

After playing the best basketball of his career, certainly the most consistent Hawks player at that point in the season, Hunter had to put basketball on pause. He had become a player who could both find his own shot and defend well, two categories in which the Hawks needed a boost. In 18 games this season, Hunter averaged 17.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 32.2 minutes per game.

He simply “felt like himself” out there, Hunter said, and he’s hoping he can get back to that soon.

“I’m really excited,” Hunter said. “Even coming on this trip is a step for me. I wasn’t traveling, I wasn’t doing much. So just coming on this trip was big for me and like I said, being able to play, or being able to play pretty soon feels good. Rehab is tough, it’s not the most fun thing, so being able to go through it and being able to play after that is always fun, so just looking forward to that.”

Though the Hawks have missed Hunter in many ways, they’ve managed to put together an eight-game win streak under interim coach Nate McMillan. Since he’s been watching from the bench, Hunter has had a unique perspective on the team’s recent success, which he attributes to the team being more connected.

“I think we’re playing with a lot more energy,” Hunter said. “Guys are really connected right now on the defensive end and offensive end. I think we’re playing for each other. I feel like that’s the biggest thing, playing for each other and getting on a string and listening to what coach wants us to do and trying to execute his plan the best we can.”