Nate McMillan clears health and safety protocols

Atlanta Hawks coach Nate McMillan gives instructions to players during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Credit: Tony Dejak

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Atlanta Hawks coach Nate McMillan gives instructions to players during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Credit: Tony Dejak

Credit: Tony Dejak

Hawks coach Nate McMillan officially cleared health and safety protocols and has returned to his coaching duties.

That means McMillan returned two negative COVID-19 tests, 24 hours apart. He coached Tuesday afternoon’s practice and will be back on the bench for Wednesday’s game vs. Miami. McMillan said he experienced some fatigue the past few days, but is feeling much better Wednesday.

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The Hawks have been short-handed for weeks as they navigate a COVID-19 outbreak, which began when Trae Young tested positive Dec. 19, but look to be on the other side of it for now. Getting McMillan back was one of the last dominoes. They now have zero players in health and safety protocols, with Gorgui Dieng, the last remaining Hawks player in protocols, clearing them as well.

One of the toughest parts of being in protocols was how disconnected McMillan felt from the team, he said after practice. Given players and coaches entering protocols over the past several weeks, he hasn’t seen some personnel in-person for close to a month.

“Extremely (tough), I’ve never had to go through anything like that,” McMillan said. “To coach during this time with COVID, some of my guys, it’s been close to a month since I’ve seen them. And that’s just never happened, except for the offseason, to go that period of time without seeing your guys. You’re talking to them, you’re texting them, you’re Zooming them, but not to be able to see them was just, I mean, awful.

“Very difficult to coach from afar. To be, really, 3,000 miles away from your team and you’re trying to coach from that far, it’s just very difficult to do. I thought my assistants, Joe (Prunty) and Matt (Hill) and Chris (Jent), they did a good job of just trying to hold, keep the team together.”

Five games under .500 (17-22) and certainly looking disconnected on defense, McMillan hopes the roster stability can give the Hawks a boost entering the second half of the season. Especially since January typically is when a team wants to hit its stride.

“The league is going through this as we are, and all we can focus on is ourselves, and we haven’t been able to do that because of the number of guys that have been out. ... Just the timing was very difficult to do and this is a really important time of the season. This is when you feel like you should have your chemistry going, guys should be conditioned, in-shape, to be playing their best basketball. If you look at starting in October, November, December, January is when you hope to be playing your best basketball, and that chemistry and the connection on both ends of the floor is there.

“And we just have not been able to have this group together, because of the number of guys going into protocols, because of injuries prior to that. But it is what it is. We have to find a way to change, and we’re close to the second half of the season, starting really with this practice (Tuesday), turning it up. We’ve got to be better than we were. ... We’ve got to figure out that we’ve got to bring it. Change the mindset, your approach to this second half. Gotta play harder.”

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