Lloyd Pierce cleared by NBA medical staff, can travel with Hawks

Big win for the Hawks: Coach Lloyd Pierce greets Clint Capela during a break in the action in Monday's 112-94 victory over the Sixers at State Farm Arena. Capela finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, one of six Hawks in double figures.
Big win for the Hawks: Coach Lloyd Pierce greets Clint Capela during a break in the action in Monday's 112-94 victory over the Sixers at State Farm Arena. Capela finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, one of six Hawks in double figures.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Hawks react to postponement and challenges of this season

Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce had to isolate Wednesday after potentially close contact with a member of the team’s traveling staff who tested positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday night, though, he was cleared by the NBA’s medical staff and was able to travel with the team to Utah on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Pierce tested negative Wednesday, but still had to isolate out of caution. The Hawks game in Phoenix on Wednesday was postponed because Phoenix recently played Washington, which has several players in COVID-19 protocols. Because of contact tracing, the Suns wouldn’t have enough players to play a game. The Hawks never came in contact with any of the Suns’ players or staff.

They have two more games on this West Coast road trip – one in Utah on Friday and one in Portland on Saturday. Two members of the team’s traveling party, the person who has tested positive and one more staff member who had close contact with that person, will have to remain in Phoenix to continue isolating. The person who tested positive is not a player.

Because everyone else was permitted to travel to Utah and is not having to isolate, as of now it seems likely the game vs. the Jazz will be played, at least based on the Hawks’ side of things.

Pierce said the team’s routine hasn’t really been thrown off, despite the postponement and the people who have had to isolate. The Hawks had a practice Wednesday afternoon (in lieu of their game), had another practice Thursday night in Utah and will have a team meeting before the game Friday.

As far as the Hawks’ schedule change with the postponement, the Hawks know every other team in the NBA is going through the same thing, Trae Young said. They’re also trying to keep things in perspective as cases rise across the country.

“It’s been a different few days for us, not playing, but it’s nothing everybody else in the league isn’t going through,” Young said. “We’re all as a league trying to figure out what we can do to try and prevent (cases increasing around the league), so we’re all going through it and we’re all making adjustments on the fly. ... It’s definitely disappointing we didn’t get to play, but at the same time, the other issues that are going on, it’s bigger than just the game. So for us, it’s thinking about the bigger picture of it all.”

This Hawks team, which features nine new players, actually has connected more when on the road, Pierce said, because of the league’s COVID-19 limitations and protocols.

“We pass each other for breakfast and when we’re doing our testing, kind of get more touches,” Pierce said. “Normally you don’t see guys in the morning, if you don’t have a workout, so we get to see our guys in the morning, we get to converse over breakfast and we gather back together for, if it’s game day or a meeting, if it’s a non-game day like today, our travel and practice.

“And the guys have been spirited and great in the practice because they know it’s the only time that they’ll be in the gym, so you get kind of that laser-focus and attention, and we get to cover a lot more details on the court because we have to. So the road has actually been really kind to us in terms of bonding and jelling together.”

The routine from this season obviously is going to be different, Pierce added, but he thinks the Hawks are adapting well.

“I think we’ve adjusted well to it,” Pierce said. “The challenge will always be, what will we have to adjust to when something on the fly comes up, like it did yesterday.”

Up until Wednesday, the Hawks had avoided any postponements because of the coronavirus.

Although it makes the season more difficult to deal with, this wasn’t unexpected, third-year wing Kevin Huerter said, as the NBA tries to play a season outside the bubble environment it used for the 2019 season’s restart in Orlando.

“Every day is kind of different,” Huerter said Wednesday. “In some ways, we kind of expected this. The numbers tell you at some point we were going to be affected as a team, as the NBA, it wasn’t just going to be clean all the way across the board. So you kind of expected that at some point, something like this might happen. But every day is really kind of different, there is no routine right now, and again, a day like (Wednesday), a game gets canceled, all the sudden we have practice at 1:30 p.m.

“It definitely is different, especially for guys that have been in the NBA for a couple years, you have shootaround, you have pregame meals and everything’s kind of timed out. But we kind of knew this was going to be a unique year, kind of expected certain guys to be out. This coronavirus was going to affect everybody. So we’ve had to change accordingly and you just kind of deal with it.”

It does make it weird, though, fourth-year power forward John Collins said, when some people are isolating and can’t be with the team like they normally would.

“It’s something I’m getting adjusted to and trying to understand and process,” Collins said. ”Definitely been weird not having your regular group around and just being pulled away and them having to quarantine. Like I said, definitely very odd, something we’re just going to have to keep adjusting to with all the new rules they keep trying to implement. I don’t know. It’s weird.”

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