The Atlanta Hawks will have new leadership on the bench when they return from the All-Star break to host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
During the break, the Hawks dismissed coach Nate McMillan and appointed Joe Prunty as his interim replacement.
Prunty started his career as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs under coach Gregg Popovich in 2000 and has been an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland.
Prunty was on staff in Milwaukee from 2014-18 and was interim head coach there in 2018, compiling a 21-16 record. Prunty has been the lead assistant in Atlanta since 2021.
McMillan was viewed as a hero when he replaced Lloyd Pierce in March 2021 and led Atlanta to the Eastern Conference final that season. But McMillan butted heads several times with high-scoring guard Trae Young and the team entered the break in eighth place in the East with a disappointing 29-30 record.
“Decisions like these, especially in-season, are always extremely difficult, but we believe it’s in the best interest of our team to move forward with another voice leading the way,” Atlanta general manager Landry Fields said.
The Hawks lost their last two games before the break and have dropped eight of their past 13 contests. Defense has been the main issue: In the final two games before the break, Atlanta surrendered 144 points to the Charlotte Hornets and 122 points to the New York Knicks in a game that was never competitive.
The Hawks are led by Young, who averages 26.7 points and 10.3 assists, and Dejounte Murray, who averages 20.7 points and 6.1 assists.
Cleveland returned from the break on Thursday and lost a home game to the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets, 115-109. The Cavaliers have dropped two straight since winning seven in a row.
The Cavaliers got 31 points and nine rebounds from Evan Mobley against the Nuggets, while Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland added 22 points apiece. Cleveland had a four-point lead with 5:48 left but got outscored 14-4 the rest of the way, losing its way after deviating from the game plan, according to coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
“We’ve got to continue to be aggressive and continue to do the things we were doing,” Bickerstaff said. “We needed to continue to attack the paint and force them to make an adjustment.”
Mobley, who had the hot hand for three quarters, took only two shots and did not score a point in the fourth quarter.
“The ball has got to find him and we’ve got to do the right thing,” Bickerstaff said. “We had opportunities and the ball didn’t find him.”
Mitchell had scored 29-plus points in four straight games going into the Denver contest. He is averaging 27.2 points.
The Friday game will be the second of three meetings between the Hawks and Cavaliers this season. Cleveland won the first contest 114-102 at home on Nov. 21 behind 29 points and nine assists from Mitchell. Young had 25 points and 10 assists. The teams will complete the series on March 28 in Atlanta.
Cleveland’s Ricky Rubio likely will return to action on Friday after he was held out of the Thursday game for load management. Rubio has not played back-to-back games since returning from knee surgery that caused him to miss the first 42 games of the season.
–Field Level Media