The long-awaited return of John Collins is finally here, and it’s an understatement to say the Hawks are happy to have him back. Atlanta went 4-21 during his 25-game suspension for PEDs after starting the year 2-3 with him – including two close losses to the 76ers and Heat. He’s going to make a noticeable difference from the jump, and his first game back is a very winnable one against the lowly Cavaliers on the road.
One thing to watch for will be rust, which is natural for any player that has missed 25 straight games. But Collins started this season on fire, shooting 52.5% from the field and 47.4% from three-point range. I wouldn’t expect it to be too long before he looks like himself out there again.
Lloyd Pierce said last week that there will be no minutes restriction when he returns, and he will be immediately placed back into the starting lineup, meaning Jabari Parker, who has been a splendid fill in for Collins in his absence will be relegated to the bench. This should take a lot of pressure off of a second unit that has been abysmal to this point.
This is where we finally find out how far along the Hawks are in their rebuild. Coming into the season, many believed this team had an outside shot of making the playoffs. I always thought that was a little far-fetched given how much youth they were going to feature, but flirting with 35-40 wins seemed reasonable coming into the season. However, all of those ideas were shot once Collins was suspended, and Huerter missed nearly a month with injury. The Hawks have dug themselves into a deep hole that they won’t be able to climb out of this season, but playing .500 basketball the rest of the way should be the goal.
The Cavaliers come into this one 8-21 but are on a two-game winning streak following home wins over the Hornets and Grizzlies. They will aim to keep that momentum going against the Hawks tonight at 7:00 P.M. But if I were a betting man – which I totally am – I’d put my money on the Hawks coming out with a lot of energy tonight and beating a team they should be better than at full strength.