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Feb 10, 2024 2:16 am

Rising Hawks square off with reeling Rockets

Trae Young

Two teams trending in opposite directions face off Saturday when the Atlanta Hawks host the road-weary Houston Rockets in the second night of back-to-back sets for both teams.

On Jan. 26, the Hawks fell to a season-worst nine games under .500 after a home loss to the Dallas Mavericks in which Luka Doncic scored 73 points.

Atlanta has rattled off five wins in its last seven games since that contest, including a 127-121 road victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday’s — the Hawks’ first away triumph over the Sixers since 2021.

After being named an injury replacement in the All-Star Game earlier this week, Trae Young collected 37 points and 12 assists on Friday.

“The game got close and he made a couple plays for us that were terrific,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said of Young. “We need that from him. He’s capable of doing that and we’re confident in him.”

Atlanta center Onyeka Okongwu added 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting from the floor, and he grabbed eight rebounds. The fourth-year player has become accustomed to coming off the bench to relieve starter Clint Capela, but with Capela out because of a left adductor strain, Okongwu has started the past three games, averaging 19.3 games during that stretch.

“Even early in the year, I think we felt (Onyeka’s) ball skills and passing had progressed,” Snyder said. “He’s got really good instincts, and you’re seeing some of his versatility on the offensive end.”

Capela will not play against Houston, so Okongwu should continue to get extended playing time.

The Rockets wrap up a four-game trip with their visit to Atlanta, hoping to salvage one win from their week on the road.

After a 21-point defeat in Minnesota on Sunday, the Rockets lost back-to-back games by three points each to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday and the Toronto Raptors on Friday.

Houston’s late rally in Toronto fell short on Friday. The Rockets sliced a 22-point deficit to just one with 23 seconds remaining before falling 107-104, their fourth defeat in five outings.

“It’s Game 51. We have to see some growth,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said.

The reserves kept the Rockets in the game Friday, with rookie Cam Whitmore pouring in 17 points, Aaron Holiday chipping in 12 and Jeff Green scoring 11.

“With our starters, we were down 14 points early, and (our bench) got us a three-point lead,” Udoka said. “We brought the starters back in, we were back to an 11-point deficit. … Love what the bench did. We need to have that urgency from everybody from the start.”

Houston’s two leading scorers this season, Alperen Sengun and Jalen Green, each struggled mightily from the floor, combining for just 14 points on 6-for-18 shooting and committing a total of six turnovers.

Sengun is averaging 21.3 points per game, while Green is scoring 18.2 points per contest.

Dating to the 1967-68 season, the two franchises have met 163 times. An Atlanta victory Saturday would knot the all-time series record at 82 wins apiece.

–Field Level Media

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