‘Pretty much a success for us:’ Hawks go 4-4 on tough West Coast trip

Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) shoots past New Orleans Pelicans center Willy Hernangomez (9) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)
Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) shoots past New Orleans Pelicans center Willy Hernangomez (9) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

If you can go at least .500 on the road, that’s usually going to do the trick, interim Hawks coach Nate McMillan thinks.

So, he welcomes the Hawks’ recent 4-4 record on a tough West Coast trip, one of the toughest hurdles of their season, which spanned about 15 days and pit them against six Western Conference teams that currently are in the playoff picture, or play-in tournament contention.

“A good trip for us,” McMillan said Friday night in New Orleans, after a depleted Hawks team beat a depleted Pelicans team 126-103. “Coming out west, I think we met five of the top teams in the west, and you come off an eight-game road trip .500, that’s good in the NBA. I thought our guys, I’ve never been on an eight-game road trip, and to see this team play with the effort, the focus, the energy that they had in this last game, on such a long road trip, was just really good to see. We were able to get it to .500, and we’ll take that.”

The Hawks entered the trip with a 21-20 record, on a seven-game win streak, and made it eight with a win vs. the Lakers (without LeBron James or Anthony Davis). During the streak, they played many struggling teams (including Orlando, Cleveland and Houston), so this was an opportunity for them to see how they stack up against stiffer opponents.

They’d like to get two games back, having blown a 22-point lead in a loss to the Clippers and comeback efforts falling short against the Kings.

Still, they head back to Atlanta in a good spot, No. 5 in the Eastern Conference standings (which is where they were before beginning this trip), with a 25-24 record. They pulled that off despite De’Andre Hunter playing in only two games (the loss to the Clippers and Kings), still struggling with knee issues, and Kris Dunn not making enough progress coming back from right ankle surgery to make his debut, which was expected by the end of the trip.

“We thought we had two more games that we definitely could have had in there,” wing Kevin Huerter said. “But like I said, you come out of it 4-4, I think there’s a lot of positives you take away from it. Going on another two-game winning streak, playing at home for the next week, hopefully getting some people back for our next game on Sunday, but it’s obviously a really good feeling. We didn’t want to go out on a sour note to end this road trip, and hopefully we’ve got some momentum going.”

As Huerter mentioned, they ended the trip on a high note, winning back-to-back games in San Antonio and New Orleans, playing without Trae Young (left knee soreness), John Collins (left ankle sprain), Danilo Gallinari (left Achilles soreness) and Cam Reddish (right Achilles soreness) vs. the Pelicans, in addition to Hunter and Dunn.

The Hawks will hope to get healthier as the second half of the season continues, but their performance on this trip is overall a good sign, center Clint Capela said.

Now that they’re over this hump, the Hawks’ schedule lightens, with 16 of their final 23 games at home. That could help give the team a boost as it aims to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season.

“I would say that it was pretty much a success for us,” Capela said of the trip. “Even though we’re still thinking about the Clippers game that we let slip out, 4-4 is pretty good for us. Going back home, with two wins on the road is really good, and we’re going to have guys back the next game, so we’re pretty good right now, in our heads.

“... It’s a really good sign, especially for a team like us, a lot of new guys. We just got Lou (Williams), and he’s already playing great for us, so I think it’s really positive. We’re going to get guys back for the next few games at home, and it’s going to be huge for us also.”

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