Friday, February 3, 2023
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NBA Preview: Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns

The Atlanta Hawks begin a four-game road swing Saturday night in Phoenix against the reigning Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.

Atlanta enters the trip west in an early-season slump, having lost four of its last five. The Hawks dropped a 116-98 decision Thursday at home to Utah, when they shot just 7-for-28 from 3-point range and were hammered on the boards, 47-32.

“When we are not hitting shots, I think we carry that to the defensive end of the floor,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said after the second consecutive loss. “We have to have someone out there to pull us together … and talk about getting stops. We’ve been dropping our heads when the shot doesn’t fall for us and really just not guarding.”

McMillan’s assessment of poor shooting impacting defensive performance comes through in end-game results.

Atlanta is allowing 115.6 points per game in its five losses while scoring 101.2 points. In four wins, the Hawks are scoring 113.8 points and allowing 100.3.

Some of Atlanta’s offensive inconsistency early in the 2021-22 season is owed to All-Star guard Trae Young’s shooting slump. Young is hitting just 25.5 percent of his 3-point attempts, down from 34.3 percent a season ago, and his scoring average through nine games is down nearly three points from his 25.3-point average of last season.

“It’s (the) regular season,” Young said Thursday after a 21-point performance on 8-of-20 shooting, including 0-4 from 3-point range. “I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot more boring than the playoffs. You got to find that motivation to play like (it is) the playoffs.”

Young was central to Atlanta’s run to last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, averaging 28.8 points and 9.5 assists in the playoffs.

Young and the Hawks will aim to recapture their postseason intensity from the most surprising run in the East when they meet last season’s most surprising team from the West. After having been shut out of the Playoffs since 2010, Phoenix tore through the Western Conference en route to the franchise’s first Finals appearance since 1993.

The Suns opened this season with a possible playoff hangover, starting 1-3. But they enter Saturday’s contest on a three-game winning streak, most recently scoring a season-high in their 123-111 defeat of Houston on Thursday.

Devin Booker shot 4-of-8 from 3-point range en route to 27 points in the win, Deandre Ayton continued the pace of his early-season double-double average with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Landry Shamet scored 19 points off the bench.

Phoenix’s win over the Rockets came the same day that ESPN published a lengthy investigative article alleging Suns owner Robert Sarver of racism and sexism. The NBA announced an investigation into Sarver’s conduct shortly after the release of the ESPN piece.

“This is a situation where they’re going to rally around each other and hoop,” Suns coach Monty Williams said during his Thursday media availability. “That’s what we do. At the same time, these aren’t comfortable situations. I understand the sensitivity of everything that’s been said or written about and expressed and it takes courage to come out and express yourself. And at the same time, I’m aware there are two sides to this equation.”

Following the Saturday night game, the Hawks visit the Golden State Warriors on Monday night, are at Utah at Tuesday, and then play the Nuggets in Denver on Friday before returning home.

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