The Atlanta Hawks, with their roster stripped because of COVID, and the Chicago Bulls, who have emerged from their own virus issues, begin a two-game series on Monday in Atlanta.
It will be the first meeting between the two Eastern Conference rivals this season. They’ll play again on Wednesday in Chicago. Atlanta swept the three-game season series a year ago.
Atlanta is trying to end a seven-game losing streak on its home court.
The Hawks are coming off a 101-87 loss to the New York Knicks on Christmas. Atlanta had its lowest scoring game of the season and its worst free-throw shooting game (57.1 percent). A large part of the problem was fatigue, as the team played for the third time without some of its top players, including Trae Young.
“They’ve been logging a lot of minutes,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said. “We had two, three guys ask for a sub and that’s never happened. I don’t think it was a lack of effort.”
Over the last three games, when Atlanta lost seven players to COVID protocols, John Collins has averaged 35 minutes and 21.7 points, and Cam Reddish has averaged 35 minutes and 20.7 points.
On Sunday, the team announced that Collins was entering the protocols. On Monday, Delon Wright became the 11th Hawks player in the protocols.
Atlanta got center Clint Capela (third in the NBA with 12.7 rebounds) back from the COVID protocols, but the absence of Young remains a major hurdle. Young is fourth in scoring in the NBA (27.3 points) and second in assists (9.3).
Other Hawks who remain out in protocols are Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Lou Williams, Onyeka Okongwu, Sharife Cooper, Jalen Johnson and Wes Uwundu.
The Bulls, who beat the Indiana Pacers 113-105 on Sunday, are getting past their own issues. They had three games postponed because of COVID, including the Dec. 22 game in Chicago. Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan all missed time, but all were reunited in practice on Thursday and played Sunday. Also cleared to return were Ayo Dosunmu, Troy Brown Jr. and Devon Dotson.
The Bulls will be without Lonzo Ball, who entered the protocols before Sunday’s game against Indiana, along with Tony Bradley and Alfonzo McKinnie. The Bulls are without Alex Caruso, who is expected to miss a week with a sprained left foot, and Derrick Jones Jr., out with a strained hamstring.
Chicago coach Billy Donovan entered the protocols on Sunday and won’t be back on the bench until Jan. 3. Assistant Chris Fleming will assume the duties until Donovan can return.
“It’s frustrating for the guys,” Fleming said. “I know every other team in the league is dealing with this, but you lose two guys (Bradley and McKinnie) right before shootaround and then right after shootaround Zo (Ball) gets pulled. I think dealing with that mentally — guys come in and they get a focus, they’re together as a group, and then, all of a sudden, you’re losing guys. That’s what we’re fighting and that’s what the other 29 (teams) are fighting, too.”
DeRozan is No. 5 in the NBA in scoring (26.8) and averages 20.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 39 career games against the Hawks. He scored a team-high 24 points against the Pacers on Sunday.
–Field Level Media