The Atlanta Hawks unleashed a collective sigh of relief after they learned their leading scorer will only miss a couple of games. Trae Young suffered an ankle injury, which looked a lot worse when it happened, in a game in which the New York Knicks defeated the Hawks in an overtime thriller on Wednesday evening.
Young averages 25.3 points and 9.6 assists per game this season. He’s ranked #3 in the NBA in assists. Young will be out for an unspecified amount of time, and is expected to miss a couple of games while nursing the injury.
“God had my back with this one. Be back soon,” tweeted Young after the game when X-rays came back negative after the game.
Young underwent an MRI on Thursday. That’s when the Hawks received good news. Team doctors diagnosed Young with a Grade 2 lateral sprained ankle injury, which means he could return in a week or so.
Against the Knicks on Wednesday, Young fell to the court writhing in pain late in the third quarter. At the time of the injury, Young tallied 20 points and dished 13 assists. Young needed assistance leaving the court. The Hawks saw their double-digit lead quickly evaporate as the Knicks stormed back and forced overtime. The Knicks eventually won in OT to extend their winning streak to eight games. It was a crucial loss for the Hawks, who battled the Knicks for the coveted #4 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Hawks in an Eastern Conference Playoff Fight
The Hawks lose Young at a pivotal time, with just three weeks remaining in the schedule. They obviously want to keep him healthy for the playoffs, but the injury-depleted Hawks can’t afford to lose any ground against conference foes.
The top-heavy Eastern Conference is led by the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and Milwaukee Bucks. The second tier of playoff teams includes the Knicks (33-27), Hawks (32-27), Boston Celtics (32-27), and Miami Heat (31-28). Those four teams are jockeying for the #4 seed, but a couple of losses could push any of them as far back as the #7 seed or, potentially, the #8 seed.
Meanwhile, the bubble is crowded by the Charlotte Hornets (28-30) who are fighting to hold onto the #8 seed or, potentially, ladder up. The Indiana Pacers (27-31) and red-hot Washington Wizards (25-33) are also contending for a spot in the play-in tournament between the #9 and #10 seeds.
On Deck: Heat and Bucks
The Hawks have roughly 13 games remaining in the regular season. If Young doesn’t bounce back quickly, the Hawks can explore the possibility of shutting him down until the playoffs so he can fully recover from the injury instead of rushing back to the lineup.
Lou Williams, the former Sixth Man of the Year winner, joined the Hawks in a trade before the deadline. Williams (12 ppg) will pick up the scoring slack for Young. Backup point guard Brandon Goodwin (4.7 ppg) will also log playing time while Young is out with the ankle injury.
The Hawks host two home games in Atlanta this weekend. Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat come to town with their eye on the Southeast crown. The Hawks currently hold a single-game lead over the Miami Heat for the Southeast Division title. The Hawks/Heat battle is the closest divisional race in the east.
On Sunday, Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Hawks.
Next week, the Hawks hit the road for an easy game against the last-place Detroit Pistons, but then face the Philadelphia 76ers in back-to-back games in Philly, where they have one of the best home records in the league.