Atlanta Hawks preview: Can they pick up where they left off?

ATLANTA — The last time we saw the Atlanta Hawks play a game that counted, they walked off the State Farm Arena court after losing game six of the Eastern Conference finals against the eventual NBA champs, the Milwaukee Bucks.

Thursday night, Atlanta’s NBA team takes to the State Farm Arena floor to kick of the 2021-22 season.

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Not much as changed for the defending Southern Division champs as they did not turn over most of the lineup from last season.

Nate McMillan starts the season as the head coach. He was an assistant to Lloyd Pierce when last season began. Gone are role or bench players like Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando. Two veterans who point guard Delon Wright and center Gorgui Dieng were acquired this offseason. Wright was picked up in a trade and Dieng was signed to a free agent contract and will fill in for the injured Onyeka Okongwu.

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The entire starting unit from last season returns intact, led of course by Trae Young. John Collins signed a $125 million contract extension in the offseason, he’ll be ready to go as well.

Guard Bogdan Bogdanovic is healthy after struggling with knee issues at the end of last season and the hope is emerging star De’Andre Hunter has moved past his knee injury and will continue the growth he showed when his injury kept him out for most of the year.

Sixth man Kevin Huerter just got a new contract as well. Huerter just got a four year, $65 million extension. He’ll continue to provide quality minutes at both guard and small forward.

The Hawks two draft picks Jalen Johnson and Sharief Cooper have potential, but on a deep team like the Hawks, they’ll struggle to get time on the floor as rookies.

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McMillan will have options in 2021, the Hawks are one of the deepest and youngest teams in the NBA. Most believe the playoff experience last year could serve as a springboard to this season.

Young will need to continue evolving his game as opponents look to take away his drives to the basket. Starting center Clint Capela has been battling a sore Achilles tendon in the preseason and Atlanta needs him to be healthy as their best defensive player.

Both the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets are expected to be much stronger this season and will test an Hawks team hungry to repeat as division champs.

Most NBA experts feel Atlanta will be a playoff team again this year. The only question is whether or not they are capable of making a deep run like last season.

It should be fun.

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Matchup: Hawks vs. Dallas Mavericks

Game Time: 7:30 p.m. at State Farm Arena

Tickets: Still available

Broadcast: TNT, National Game

Quick Preview: It’s another in the ever-growing list of Trae Young vs. Luka Doncic matchups. The two players who were traded for each other before the 2018 season will forever be linked.

The Mavericks were a playoff team last season, though they lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Mavericks have a new coach for this season in Jason Kidd and the Hawks come into the game mostly healthy and should be ready to go.