Hawks look to stay back on track vs. optimistic Nets

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The Brooklyn Nets are still waiting for their best player to return from an injury as they travel to Atlanta for Wednesday’s game against the Hawks.

The Nets are coming off a 109-106 loss to Miami, but have won five of their last seven. And the optimism is rising now that leading scorer Kyrie Irving is on the verge of a return, although it will not happen on Wednesday or Friday during the Nets’ brief two-game trip to Atlanta and Charlotte.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters Tuesday that Irving, who has missed the team’s last nine games with a right shoulder impingement, that the six-time All-Star guard will remain in Brooklyn to continue rehabbing the injury.

Even without Irving or Kevin Durant, who will miss the entire season following right Achilles surgery, or Caris LaVert, out with right thumb surgery, the Nets have come together and established themselves as a playoff contender.

“Fifteen guys bonded together, and I don’t think it was pretty,” Atkinson said. “Your best player’s out — let’s be honest — and everybody steps it up a level. It’s really a real boost to our morale.”

Wednesday’s game will be the first of four meetings between the two Eastern Conference opponents. Brooklyn swept all three games against Atlanta last season and has won the last five contests.

With Irving — and his 28.5 points per game — out of action, Brooklyn has been led by guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was a key reserve a year ago. In the last nine games since he became a starter, Dinwiddie is averaging 25 points and 7.3 assists per game.

Dinwiddie ranks second behind Irving on the team with 20.7 points and 5.9 assists. He scored 29 points against the Heat and has scored 23-plus points in five of his last six games.

The game will also mark a homecoming for Taurean Prince, who was drafted by the Utah Jazz and immediately traded to the Hawks where he played three seasons before being traded to the Nets in July. Prince is averaging 13 points and six rebounds this season.

The Hawks broke a 10-game losing streak when they defeated Golden State 104-79 on Monday. It was the largest margin of victory for Atlanta this season, easily besting the previous high of 17 points against Detroit on Oct. 24. The Hawks gave up exactly half as many (79 fewer) points than they allowed in their previous game, a 158-111 loss to the Houston Rockets.

“I don’t know if it’s a momentum-builder, it’s just good to get off the other side of the momentum,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We’d like to get a streak going the other way, but I think more than anything, just to get that part out of it and settle back in and see if we can get some guys healthy. … The word I’ll use is ‘spirit,’ get our spirit back, the competitive spirit, the confidence and the togetherness.”

Atlanta continues to ride the scoring of Trae Young, who had 24 points on Monday and has reached the 20-point mark 17 times this season. Young has at least 10 field goals in a season-high six straight games.

Rookie De’Andre Hunter scored 18 points against Golden State, but he left the game with an injury diagnosed as a dislocated right index finger. While X-rays were negative, Hunter is expected to miss Wednesday’s game. Hunter, the team’s first-round draft choice this year, is the club’s fourth-leading scorer at 12.2 points.

–Field Level Media

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