After 1-4 stretch on road trip, Hawks look for faster starts

Hawks guard Trae Young (right) moves the ball down the court as the Lakers' Danny Green trails during the first half Nov. 17, 2019, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

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Hawks guard Trae Young (right) moves the ball down the court as the Lakers' Danny Green trails during the first half Nov. 17, 2019, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

After Sunday’s 21-point loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles, which followed Saturday’s epic 49-point loss to the Clippers, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce could tell some of his players were deflated.

“A lot of the heads are down in there right now,” Pierce said of the team’s locker room Sunday. “We’re not going to let that linger. We’ve got to stay together, we’ve got to get back in the gym and work and we’ll try and find some comfort on Wednesday.”

It was a brutal back-to-back for this young Hawks team (4-9), which is missing two of its best weapons in John Collins and Kevin Huerter (who injured his left shoulder in the win in Denver), and a tough west coast road trip overall. The Hawks went 1-4 on the trip, losing to Portland in overtime Nov. 10, beating Denver Nov. 12, then losing three games in a row to Phoenix, the Lakers and the Clippers.

They’re back home now and host the Bucks at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at State Farm Arena.

The Hawks simply looked outmatched against the Lakers (11-2) and Clippers (9-5), and being shorthanded didn’t help (they were also without Vince Carter, who missed the trip due to the birth of his daughter, Pierce said Tuesday). But in both games, a bad start put them at a disadvantage from the get-go.

Against the Lakers, the Hawks were in a 30-6 hole with 4:22 left to play in the first quarter, and against the Clippers, they got down 25-8 with 6:34 left in the first.

The game in Denver started similarly, with the Hawks getting down 12-0, but Trae Young’s 42 points helped turn the tide in that game.

Those first-quarter struggles reminded Pierce of last year's team, which started the season 3-16 and didn't reach 10 wins until Dec. 28.

“That was a knock on us last year,” Pierce said of falling behind early. “We were really bad the first six minutes of every first quarter, for about three months. I mean, really bad. And we got a glimmer of that on this road trip. The road trip in and of itself was brutal. We faced four of the top seven teams out west. Maybe four of the top seven teams in the league.”

Young, who had expressed disappointment with the Hawks’ effort in the deflating Clippers loss, said the need to start games off stronger was his main takeaway from the team’s time out west.

Young (who is averaging 27 points, four rebounds and 8.7 assists per game) continues to face plenty of pressure from defenses, especially considering Collins and Huerter aren’t there to draw any attention away from him.

“I think it’s just getting off to better starts,” Young said. “A lot of that has to do with the starters, a lot of that has to do with me getting off to better starts and not putting our team in such a big hole. You go up against really good teams like we’ve been playing on the road trip, you get down that much it’s hard to get back into the game and have to take the lead. We’re able to fight our way back into the game (but) it’s so hard that it takes all the energy out of us.”

The Hawks may be down Collins, who was suspended for 25 games on Nov. 5 for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program, and Huerter, who was diagnosed with a  left rotator cuff strain with an associated shoulder capsule strain and will be re-evaluated Nov. 28.

But they’ll have to find ways to overcome that if they want to be competitive in Collins’ and Huerter’s absence.

“If you lose two of your main players, it’s going to affect your team drastically,” Young said. “So it’s definitely tough but it’s what it’s come to right now, so we’ve got to find a way to win without them right now until they get back.”