Surging Hawks embark on tough eight-game Western trip

Breaking down the Hawks' winning streak

Combined ShapeCaption
Breaking down the Hawks' winning streak

The Hawks have won seven in a row, climbing to No. 5 in the Eastern Conference standings, and interim coach Nate McMillan is 9-1 overall this season, 7-0 since taking over when Lloyd Pierce was fired March 1.

To put it succinctly, they’re surging.

They’ve also played their last home game until April 4 and embark on a brutal eight-game trip, beginning with Saturday’s game at the Lakers.

“We’ve got a long road trip coming up that in a lot of ways is going to make or break our season, so that’s kind of how we’re going into it,” wing Kevin Huerter said. “Extremely important time of year, and we want to keep this going.”

The Hawks play at the Clippers on Monday, then will visit the Kings on Wednesday, the Warriors on March 26, the Nuggets on March 28, the Suns on March 30, the Spurs on April 1 and the Pelicans on April 2. They flew to Los Angeles on Friday, will fly back from New Orleans on a red eye and won’t get back home until April 3, so that’s roughly a 16-day trip, playing every other day except for that final back-to-back.

It will be grueling, and is significant because the Hawks, now playing better under McMillan, with the potential return of De’Andre Hunter and Kris Dunn’s debut looming, will get to see how they stack up against stiffer competition. Over their seven-game win streak, they have played one team with a winning record (Miami at 22-19, who is No. 4 in the East). All but two teams they’ll face on this trip have winning records (Sacramento at 16-24 and New Orleans at 17-24).

Also, as a team that’s looking to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season, they’re finally in a good spot in the Eastern Conference standings (No. 5), the middle of which are jam-packed, with a few teams lagging at the bottom and three (Philadelphia at 28-13, Brooklyn at 28-13, Milwaukee at 26-14) way ahead. The Hawks recently inched above .500 at 21-20, and a dreadful performance on the trip would mean they would drop significantly in the standings.

A solid showing, though, competing well against playoff teams and scrapping together as many wins as possible, would be a great sign for this team’s progress. After they return, their schedule lightens, playing 16 of their final 23 games at home.

“We go out there and blow all our opportunities to win games that we should win, or compete in games that we should, it definitely could be a deal-breaker,” power forward John Collins said. “Going on a road trip, it’s not easy, playing consistent away games over and over again, the travel, the (COVID-19) testing, there’s a lot more that goes into it than your average season, as well as our standing in the East right now. So every game counts, but we’ve got to approach every game the same way and just attack it from there.”

For guard Trae Young, one of the more important parts of the trip is getting adequate rest and staying fresh throughout a tough stretch.

“It’s important for us, especially being gone 16 days, playing eight games. You do the math, and we’re playing basically every other day and not getting too many practices in, really just traveling and playing, so for us, it’s a mental thing,” Young said.

“In our film session, being really locked in and just taking care of our bodies while on the road, it’s going to be very important to do that. It’s going to be an important stretch for us, so we’ve just got to be ready, and I believe we will be.”