Hawks’ McMillan wants home court to be ‘impossible place’ for opponents to win

10/06/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — A young Atlanta Hawks and Trae Young fan wears an array of ice trays with his Atlanta Hawks jersey during the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers pre-season NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Wednesday, October 6, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/ Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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10/06/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — A young Atlanta Hawks and Trae Young fan wears an array of ice trays with his Atlanta Hawks jersey during the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers pre-season NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Wednesday, October 6, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/ Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The Hawks enter the 2021-22 NBA season with high expectations, namely to compete for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

But with coach Nate McMillan at the helm full-time now and their core players back from last season’s gripping playoff run, they Hawks are hoping that advantage will come into play much sooner than the postseason, as soon as when they host the Mavericks on Thursday night in their season opener.

“To have any type of success in this league, you’ve got to defend your home court,” McMillan said Wednesday after practice. “You’ve got to be a tough team at home when you go out and play and for us it starts (Thursday) night, taking care of business here at home.”

Last year, the Hawks went 25-11 at home (16-20 on the road), improving rapidly in the second half of the season. When they reached the postseason and kept winning, excitement from the fan base and the energy surrounding the team was the by far the highest it had been in years, leading to rowdy, sellout crowds and an edge at State Farm Arena. They went 23-6 in their last 29 home games, including the playoffs, and are hoping that success (and enthusiasm) can carry over into this season.

McMillan thinks the Hawks can take it a step further, and has set the goal of 30-plus home wins. It’s much more difficult to win on the road, considering the travel and tougher environment, so if you pair that with going .500 in away games in an 82-game season, that’s about 50 wins (last season, the Hawks finished 41-31 with a compressed schedule, going 27-11 under McMillan in the regular season).

A lot of it starts with consistency and energy from the Hawks.

“We want to try and improve on that and make our building a tough place, really an impossible place for teams to come in and get a win,” McMillan said of last season’s home record. “... It’s all up to us. We have to establish that energy in the building, give our fans something to cheer for, to support, to come out and see. So that’s all on us, making this a tough place to play by the style of basketball that we bring to the floor.”

In terms of entertainment value, Trae Young and company certainly bring the highlight plays, which helps the team boost its engagement and following, John Collins thinks.

“That’s a big part of why I feel we’ve been able to turn it around so quickly, you have Trae’s dynamic, myself, (Clint Capela), the young core is booming and ready to go, some swag, some energy and some juice, and it’s fun to watch, so not only are we showing that we can produce and win games, but it’s fun and it’s not a slow pace, we’re up and down,” Collins said. “We want to move, we want to run and go, and I feel like that just adds to the aura and what makes us have that Hawks basketball identity that we’re trying to build.”

Ultimately, building up home-court advantage is a mind-set, per Kevin Huerter.

It means the Hawks have to do everything they can to create a hostile environment for opponents, whether that’s getting the crowd into it or just being as difficult as possible to beat on their own turf.

“It’s going in with losing not being an option, it’s using the crowd to gain momentum throughout the game, but just being tough to be on our home court, being relentless,” Huerter said. “... The best teams are tough to beat at home and that’s something that we’ve experienced the past couple years, coming in and playing some of the better teams in the league on their home court, and that’s what we need our atmosphere to be.”

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