The Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets produced different results when they returned from the All-Star break. How each club responds on Sunday at Atlanta, when they meet for the third time this season, could set a tone for the rest of the season.
Atlanta, which fired coach Nate McMillan during the break, is coming off a 136-119 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. That ended a two-game losing streak and kept the Hawks at No. 8 in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn, which unloaded two high-profile players before the trade deadline, struggled mightily in a 131-87 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday. The Nets are No. 5 in the East but have lost four of their last six.
“We have to be the hardest-playing team in the NBA,” Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn said. “When we don’t, this can happen. I’m going to challenge our guys that this is unacceptable as a group. I want them to own it and respond.”
Since trading Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant at the deadline, the Nets have used the starting five of new additions Spencer Dinwiddie, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith with holdover Nic Claxton in each of the last four games.
Since joining the team, Bridges has averaged 22.0 points and 6.3 rebounds, Dinwiddie has averaged 14.6 points, Johnson has averaged 13.5 points and Finney-Smith has averaged 5.4 points.
“We’re a whole new team now,” Bridges said. “We’ve got to find our game. It’s tough, but we can’t make excuses. We’ve got to find out who we are on both ends. … It starts with tomorrow. We’ve got to learn from it, watch film, figure out who we are and get better.”
Joe Harris has played a critical role of coming off the bench for the new-look Nets. Over the last five games the veteran is averaging 10.6 points and is shooting 16-for-30 (53 percent) on 3-pointers. He is averaging 8.5 points for the season.
Atlanta’s Trae Young said his team benefited from having a break.
“Everybody was able to get away for a second and we were able to come out and play free and play fast,” Young said. “Everybody got their legs back. But it’s one game. We got our minds right and we got ready to come out to a good start.”
Atlanta scored 49 points in the second quarter against the Cavs. It was the third-highest-scoring quarter in franchise history. The Hawks had a season-high 81 points at halftime.
The Hawks scored 100-plus points for the 35th consecutive game, the longest such streak in the NBA. Cleveland entered the game allowing the fewest points in the league (100.6).
Published reports say Atlanta is on the verge of signing former Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder to replace McMillan. Until then, the team will be coached by lead assistant Joe Prunty, who guided the team to victory on Friday.
“I thought we might be rusty because of the break,” Prunty said. “Overall, I felt we had a good rhythm and our bench did a very good job.”
Brooklyn has won the first two meetings, most recently 108-107 in Atlanta on Dec. 28. The final game will be March 31 at Brooklyn.
–Field Level Media