Ayton expected back as Suns host Hawks
Another sign of the increasing maturity of the young Atlanta Hawks is how the team has gotten better on the road.
Nearing the end of its seven-game trip that will take them from coast to coast -- the Hawks cleared out of town so Atlanta could host the Super Bowl -- the team has won two of its first five games. That may not sound great, but on their first West Coast trip, the Hawks went 0-4, part of a 10-game losing streak.
Atlanta will try its luck Saturday night against another young team in Phoenix, which has lost nine in a row. The Suns expect to get back rookie center Deandre Ayton, who has missed six games with a sprained left ankle.
"I have been doing a lot of in-pool running and sprinting, so I feel very light," Ayton said Friday. "My legs feel brand-new, like I just got to the league, so it's a good sign."
Ayton, listed as probable to play Saturday, is averaging 16.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
This will be the first meeting between the teams this season.
Atlanta took its lumps on Wednesday in a 135-113 loss to Sacramento, then lost 128-112 at Utah on Friday.
Phoenix, the last-place team in the Western Conference, has not played since losing 126-124 to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.
That loss, which came when the Spurs' Rudy Gay hit a jumper at the buzzer, was tough for the Suns. It came despite a season-high-tying 38 points from Devin Booker. But it was a definite improvement over the team's previous four games, which they lost by an average of 23 points. The last win for Phoenix came on Jan. 12.
"Dropping nine straight and losing three or four to game-winners, you realize that you have to be locked in the whole game," Booker said. "It's not just the final shot."
Booker continues to be a bright spot for the Suns. Over his last eight games, he has scored 20-plus points six times and at least 25 points four times.
Kelly Oubre Jr., obtained from Washington on Dec. 17, has been on a tear. He has scored at least 13 points in 12 consecutive games, the most by a Phoenix player off the bench since Leandro Barbosa went 15 straight in 2007.
Jamal Crawford, in his 19th season, scored a season-high 22 points against the Spurs; he had not been in double-digits in the previous four games and was scoreless in two of those.
Atlanta is led by second-year forward John Collins and rookie point guard Trae Young, who were named to the Rising Stars roster for the NBA All-Star Weekend.
Collins is averaging 19.3 points and 9.8 rebounds. Collins scored 19 against the Jazz.
Although his offense has been inconsistent at times, Young is the first Atlanta rookie with multiple 30-point games since Dominique Wilkins had five in 1982-83. He made five 3-pointers in the loss to Utah, giving him the franchise's single-season rookie record at 84. Young was named the NBA's Rookie of the Month for January.
"He's really been composed over the last couple games," Collins said. "He's made an effort to really make the right play."
Both teams have been dealing with injury issues.
In addition to Ayton missing time, T.J. Warren has missed four straight games with right ankle soreness. He is out for Saturday. Atlanta guard Kent Bazemore returned on Wednesday after missing 14 games with an ankle injury.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 2, 2019