Hawks just got a lot more dangerous

dkf200122017 lac atl

As I’ve said on multiple occasions over the last month or so, the Hawks’ depth makes them an extremely dangerous team and a tough out for whoever they face in the playoffs. On any given night, 10-11 different guys could go for 20+ points. It truly is remarkable, and they just got even deeper yesterday.

The Hawks received fantastic news before their matchup versus the Wizards, as De’Andre Hunter was cleared to play his first game since March 24th and just his third game since January 29th. He came off a bench as a member of Atlanta’s second unit — a group that has carried the team on several occasions since Nate McMillan took over as head coach — and looked impressive in limited action.

Hunter was obviously on a minutes restriction, scoring six points in nine minutes of action before halftime. He only played five more minutes in the second half and didn’t score another bucket; however, the important thing is he looked healthy and comfortable. Expect the Hawks to continue to ramp up his minutes over the final three games, and hopefully, he can be close to full strength when the playoffs arrive.

Monday belonged to the Hawks starters, though. Three of them finished with 25+ points, led by Trae Young, who recorded 39 points, nine assists, and six boards. John Collins was the second-leading scorer, racking up 28 points and eight boards. With all the new firepower in Atlanta, Collins has been asked to play a reduced role offensively for the good of the team, which he’s accepted without much hesitation, so it’s nice to see him put together back-to-back outstanding performances. Bogdanovic was the other Hawk to finish with 25 points, as he continued his scorching-hot shooting from deep, finishing with seven three-pointers on 12 attempts.

Clint Capela was the only other Hawks player to score in double digits, ending the night with ten points, but his best work was done on the boards and the defensive end, recording 22 rebounds and four blocks. He continues to be the unsung hero of Atlanta’s season, and it will be refreshing for him to receive some national recognition when the postseason finally begins.

The game itself looked to be heading towards a blowout for a while. The Hawks trailed by one at the half, but Trae Young and John Collins took over the third quarter and stretched the lead to 17. Atlanta would quickly make it a 19-point advantage at the beginning of the fourth, but a 15-0 run by the Wizards got them back in the game, and they never went away. Up just one with 29 seconds to play, John Collins was stripped on the Hawks’ final possession, leading to a Russell Westbrook runout. He was able to get a fantastic look to win the game, but it didn’t fall, giving the Hawks their 38th win of the season and moving them one step closer to clinching a spot in the playoffs.

With the win, Atlanta’s magic number to earn a top-six seed is just one. However, their eyes should be on a much bigger prize — home-court advantage. The Hawks are now just a half-game behind the Knicks for the fourth seed; however, New York owns the tie-breaker. Still, Atlanta has an advantage, given their final three games are all at home and against teams with losing records — Wizards, Magic, and Rockets.

Perhaps the bigger story is the health of Hunter, though. After the game, he told Kevin Chouinard that he felt healthy and didn’t suffer any setbacks.

Now at nearly full strength for the first time all season, the Hawks have a chance to end the season on a high note and send a message to the rest of the league that they can make some noise in the playoffs.


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