Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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NBA Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers (38-24) at Atlanta Hawks (29-30)

When the Atlanta Hawks play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, returning from the All-Star break, they will have new bench leadership.

The Hawks fired coach Nate McMillan during the break and hired Joe Prunty as his interim replacement.

Prunty began his coaching career in 2000 as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs under coach Gregg Popovich. Since then, he has worked as an assistant with Cleveland, the Dallas Mavericks, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Brooklyn Nets, the Phoenix Suns, and Milwaukee Bucks.

Prunty was a staff member in Milwaukee from 2014 to 2018 and served as interim head coach there, achieving a record of 21-16. Since 2021, Prunty has been the lead assistant in Atlanta.

When McMillan took over for Lloyd Pierce in March 2021 and led Atlanta to the Eastern Conference final that season, he was regarded as a hero. However, McMillan had multiple headbutts with Trae Young, a high-scoring guard, and the team entered the break eighth in the East with a disappointing 29-30 record.

Before the break, the Hawks had lost their last two games and have lost eight of their last 13 games. The main problem has been defense: In the final two games before the break, Atlanta let the Charlotte Hornets score 144 points and the New York Knicks score 122 points in games that were never close.

Young leads the Hawks with an average of 26.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, followed by Dejounte Murray with an average of 20.7 points and 6.1 rebounds.

On Thursday, Cleveland played a home game against the Denver Nuggets, who lead the Western Conference, 115-109. After winning seven consecutive games, the Cavaliers have lost two in a row.

Evan Mobley scored 31 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Cavaliers against the Nuggets, and Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland each scored 22 points. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff claims that after deviating from the game plan, Cleveland lost its way and was outscored 14-4 the remainder of the game, despite having a four-point lead with 5:48 left.

Mobley, who controlled the game for three quarters, only made two shots in the fourth quarter and did not score a point.

Before the Denver matchup, Mitchell had scored 29 or more points in four consecutive games. He scores 27.2 points on average.

This season, the Hawks and Cavaliers will play each other three times, the second of those times coming on Friday. On Nov. 21, Mitchell scored 29 points and had nine assists, helping Cleveland to a 114-102 victory at home. Young had 10 rebounds and 25 points. The series will end on March 28 in Atlanta between the teams.

After missing the game on Thursday due to load management, Cleveland’s Ricky Rubio is likely to play again on Friday. Since returning from knee surgery that caused him to miss the first 42 games of the season, Rubio has not played in consecutive games.

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