Emotional Budenholzer praises Pop after Coach of the Year win


VIDEO: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer thanks Gregg Popovich for taking a chance on him

ATLANTA — He did everything he could to keep his emotions from getting the best of him.

Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is notorious for wanting to do any and everything he can to avoid the spotlight. Guiding his team to a franchise-record 60 wins and the top spot in the Eastern Conference is the worst way to accomplish that goal.

With the eyes of the basketball world on him Tuesday afternoon, Budenholzer stepped to the podium to accept the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2014-15 season, and from the minute he leaned into the microphone he had to fight back the tears. With praise for all of his mentors — most notably his own father, Vince Budenholzer, a legendary high school coach in Arizona, and San Antonio Spurs coach and his longtime boss and friend, Gregg Popovich — Budenholzer had to fight back the tears when speaking about what both men have meant to him throughout a lifetime immersed in the game that he loves.

He thanked his father for instilling in him a passion for the game that Popovich helped him hone as a longtime assistant, first as an intern with the Golden State Warriors and for 18 years after that with the Spurs.

“It seems only appropriate to finish with the real Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich,” Budenholzer said as he wrapped up his acceptance speech at Philips Arena. “This award has a permanent spot on his desk in San Antonio. He just takes it out every couple of years and shares it around with the rest of us. I might be able to sneak back into his office and put it back down.”

Appropriately enough, it was Popovich, at the urging of the Hawks after they found out Budenholzer had beaten out Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd for the top spot this season, who called and informed his former protegé that he’d won the award. Boston’s Brad Stevens was fourth and Popovich fifth.

“There are some things better kept between Pop and myself,” a smiling Budenholzer said later how Popovich broke the news. “And I’ll go so far as to say … He was nice, really nice, and he assured me that he was not pulling my leg.”

Budenholzer’s surprising resuscitation of the Hawks’ brand after just two seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. A perfect January and a 19-0 stretch overall led to four All-Stars, Budenholzer and his staff coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars in New York in February. The Hawks’ 60-win season and dominance all season led to Budenholzer posing for pictures with Pop’s trophy.

From a 38-win team and No. 8 seed in the playoffs after his first campaign to their current status as the No. 1 seed is not something anyone forecasted this team in the summer as they were reeling from the drama caused by derogatory comments in emails from part-owner Bruce Levenson and insensitive comments from general manager Danny Ferry that led to Ferry’s indefinite leave of absence.

“There is a certain degree of satisfaction that adds to it,” Budenholzer said. “We feel like this is a group that they believe in what they are doing and we obviously believe in them as players. And we’re trying to build something together. A lot of us were put together, but there were some pretty important people that we joined in Jeff Teague and Al Horford and Kyle Korver and even John (Jenkins). This group has really come together and it does mean something extra.”

Budenholzer praised Ferry, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who introduced him Tuesday, ownership and the entire organization for giving him the opportunity. He’s stayed in contact with Ferry, who was not in attendance, and did not shy away from handing out credit where he felt it was deserved.

“He’s been incredibly supportive of me from Day 1,” Budenholzer said of Ferry. “He’s very happy for me and continues to be. So it was good. But it’s been a tough year for everybody and hopefully, everybody has handled it to the best of all of our abilities.”

On a team with balanced scoring and devoid of one individual superstar to garner MVP mention or first-team All-NBA mention, the one individual award the Hawks had the best chance of winning was Coach of the Year.

Horford called it an honor extremely well-deserved, knowing his coach would want nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance that comes along with NBA postseason awards.

“He is the type of person that is all about the team,” Horford said. “So he is not going to want to take any credit for it. But it’s because of him. He really deserves that award, so I’m very, very happy for him. I just think that the whole mindset of working as a team. That goes a long way. One through 15 all the guys here believe in what we’re doing and what he’s preaching.”

Budenholzer’s approach — each man as responsible as the next for not only his own individual improvement, but also the collective improvement of the entire group — is what resonates with his players.

He showed up with the sparkling credentials, but he didn’t get a free pass, particularly from the veterans. Sure, they saw the tremendous gains in player development from veteran guys like Teague, Korver, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll as well as youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala. Still, there was a connection that had to be made in order for the Hawks to take that next step as a group. And Budenholzer and his staff clearly put in all the necessary work to make that happen, following that Pop/Spurs blueprint as best they could.

“I’ve played for a lot of coaches, so I’ve seen plenty of situations and it wasn’t an instant thing,” Elton Brand said. “We didn’t get the head coach from San Antonio who won all the championships with the Spurs. It still took time. What’s his system about? Do we have the personnel to get it done? We had all the usual questions. And then we had a little success, started winning, made the playoffs and it takes off from there. But he still had to work for it. He had to earn the trust, just like any coach, even one from that background and that Spurs family tree. He didn’t just walk in the door and it was instant. He had to come in and earn everyone’s respect and show us his character. He did that, and that’s what makes this even more special.”

Part-time Howard is full-time committed


VIDEO: Dwight Howard is geared up for Game 2 of the series

HOUSTON — The Dallas Mavericks won’t mind at all if Dwight Howard continues to be a part-time player in Game 2 on Tuesday night. Playing just 17 minutes due to foul trouble in the opener, Howard finished with less than eye-popping numbers: 11 points and five rebounds.

But in the short time he was on the court, Howard still did cast a long shadow, slamming home a couple of early dunks and getting a hand on seemingly every shot that Dallas put up at the basket as the Rockets opened an early double-digit lead. The eight-time All-Star center had five blocks in his short stint.

“I think a couple years ago, maybe even last year, I would have allowed a couple fouls get to my head and I wouldn’t be able to be as effective on the defensive end,” Howard said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘If I foul out, I foul out going hard, trying to block everything and being aggressive.’ ”

In 67 previous playoff games, his averages were 20.3 points and 14.1 rebounds. In the Rockets’ six-game, first-round loss to the Trail Blazers in 2014, Howard averaged 26 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.

This season he played just 41 games, missing virtually all of February and March while being treated for pain and swelling in his right knee.

“He’s always risen up and played very well at this time of year,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought he played with a lot of energy (in Game 1). Foul trouble kind of kept him on the bench longer than we wanted, but I thought he had great energy and I thought he was really focused in.”

Howard says he has tried to turn the negative of missing games into a positive by watching his teammates closely and getting a better understanding of how he must carry himself.

“Just sitting out a lot of games and just watching and analyzing what I need to do for this team and where I need to be mentally for this team to win,” he said.

“When I’m on the floor, I don’t allow whatever is happening around me to affect me as a player. Our team tends to follow that lead. When I’m frustrated, I can’t point the finger at everybody else doing the same thing. I have to make sure I keep a level head and not allow the fouls or whatever it is on the floor that happens that is negative to affect me.

“Just being on the floor, I appreciate these moments that I have. I don’t want to take anything for granted. Anything can happen in a split second. When we’re out there playing, when I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team, I just want to do it to 100 percent.”

Morning shootaround — April 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Should Blazers fret Aldridge’s future? | Lofty career goals for Pelicans’ Davis | Williams wants to stay with Raptors

No. 1: Should Blazers be worried about Aldridge’s future? — Portland couldn’t have looked much worse in its playoff opener against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Blazers scored just 86 points (including 15 first-quarter points), got minimal contributions from their thinning bench and saw All-Star guard Damian Lillard shoot 5-for-21 for 14 points. The lone bright spot was LaMarcus Aldridge‘s play (32 points, 14 rebounds) and in the day between Game 1 and 2, talk is bubbling up that losing the series might not be Portland’s only concern. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more:

After an atrocious performance by the Blazers that at one point left Aldridge sitting alone on the bench as his teammates joined a late-game huddle, the Blazers need to worry about more than just losing this series.

They need to worry about losing one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Some Blazers players have already said they are worried free agency will take Aldridge away from Portland this summer. Earlier this month, before a home game, a Blazers player estimated the chances of him returning to Portland at 50-50.

Personally, I’ve always believed Aldridge will return to Portland. Paul Allen can offer more years and more money to Aldridge than any other owner. But behind the numbers and dollar figures is the undeniable fact that he has become comfortable in the city and feels valued within the organization. With Aldridge, that means more than any wad of money or the attention of any big city can offer.

It’s why Aldridge took a bold stance last summer after he politely turned down an offer to sign a three-year extension, saying he would rather sign a five-year deal with Portland.

“I don’t want it to be perceived that I’m not happy, or I’m not staying on because I’m not signing a three-year deal,” Aldridge told The Oregonian last July. “It’s just financially smarter to wait … and I’m looking forward to signing the five-year deal when the chance comes.”

But one Blazers player cautioned that Aldridge already has enough money. Happiness is what he is truly seeking, and that could be found in being closer to family in Texas.

It’s the tricky thing about Aldridge. No one ever really knows where he stands. He is fickle. Moody. And unpredictable.

So as this Blazers season has devolved into a snowball of snafus, epitomized by Sunday’s Game 1 that featured wild shots, broken assignments, and embarrassing miscues, it was safe to wonder where Aldridge’s mind was headed.


VIDEO: The Starters address the state of the Blazers-Grizzlies series

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Raptors need to respond in Game 2


VIDEO: A behind-the-scenes look at the Raptors getting ready for the playoffs

TORONTO — Home teams are 9-1 in the postseason through Monday. The one defeat belongs to the Toronto Raptors, who lost Game 1 to the Washington Wizards on Saturday and have put themselves in a hole for the second straight year.

Last year’s series against the Brooklyn Nets taught the Raptors that there’s an opportunity to recover. They took a 3-2 lead in that series before losing in seven games.

But the pressure is still on the Raptors to get a win in Game 2 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV), before the series heads to Washington. Over the last 12 years (since all rounds went to best-of-7), teams that lost Game 1 at home are 43-8 in Game 2. But only one of the eight teams that also lost Game 2 came back to win the series. Furthermore, the Raptors’ opponent had the biggest discrepancy in the regular season between how well they played at home (plus-7.1 points per 100 possessions) and how well they played on the road (minus-3.5).

It’s not hard to figure out where the Raptors have the most room for improvement. They scored just 86 points on 98 possessions in Game 1, shooting 13-for-50 from outside the paint. Their three leading scorers – DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams – combined to score just 32 points on 12-for-46 from the field.

The Wizards have to feel that they can play a lot better in Game 2 as well. They couldn’t crack a point per possession on Saturday either. They shot worse from outside the paint (13-for-53) than the Raptors did, and John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to shoot 11-for-41.

Here are five things to watch in Game 2…

1. Cleaning the glass

In an ugly Game 1, the difference was Washington’s 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. Four of the former and five of the latter came in overtime. The Raptors ranked 25th in defensive rebounding percentage in the regular season, and their issues in that regard obviously carried over into the playoffs.

In some cases, the Raptors just got beat up underneath the basket. See Drew Gooden vs. Patrick Patterson on this fourth-quarter tip-in.

But other Washington offensive rebounds were a result of the Raptors’ defense on the perimeter. By sending two to the ball on pick-and-rolls involving Wall and Beal, Toronto got caught in rotations and out of position when it was time to secure a rebound.

So in regard to the glass, it will first be interesting to see whether or not the Raptors are hedging hard on pick-and-rolls.

2. Transition game

According to SportVU, just five (6.5 percent) of the Raptors’ 77 initial-possession shots came in the first six seconds of the shot clock on Saturday. Toronto isn’t a particularly fast-paced team, but that rate is about half of their regular-season rate (13.0 percent).

“Our tempo has to be different,” Lowry said Sunday. “I need to start the game off with a faster pace, getting up and down a little bit more.”

Earlier shots are typically better shots. In the regular season, the Raptors had an effective field-goal percentage of 61 percent in the first six seconds of the shot clock and 49 percent thereafter.

3. Pierce at the 4

Despite the 19 offensive boards, the Wizards’ offense was still pretty bad. Wizards coach Randy Wittman can get more shooting and spacing on the floor by continuing to use Paul Pierce at power forward.

Pierce played 17 minutes with less than two bigs on the floor next to him in Game 1. The Wizards were actually a minus-1 in those minutes, but playing small helped them turned the game around in the second quarter.

We’ll see if Wittman goes to that look even earlier in the game on Tuesday.

4. James Johnson?

James Johnson could be thought of as a counter to Pierce at the four, especially by those who were chanting “We want James!” in the second half of Game 1. But the Raptors aren’t comfortable playing Johnson at power forward, and would have a hard time taking minutes away from Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson, Patterson or Jonas Valanciunas.

Pierce’s points weren’t necessarily about his individual matchup, either. They were more a product of the attention paid to Wall and Beal.

Still, there may be minutes at small forward for Johnson, who had a positive impact on the Raptors’ numbers when he was on the floor in the regular season. Bonus: He’s a better rebounder than any of the team’s other wings.

5. Who can make a shot?

Both teams played strong defense in Game 1. And both teams missed a lot of open shots.

According to SportVU, the Raptors shot 8-for-27 (30 percent) on uncontested jumpers on Saturday, while the Wizards shot 10-for-35 (29 percent). In the regular season, both teams were better, and Game 2 might just come down to which team can make a few more jumpers than they did in Game 1.

Mirotic takes pounding (thigh, knee, head) as Bucks-Bulls series gets physical


VIDEO: Things get more than chippy between Nikola Mirotic and Zaza Pachulia

CHICAGO – As accustomed as the Chicago Bulls have grown with injuries, there’s a Monty Pythonesque “Black Knight” vibe to them sometimes, with even significant ailments and breakdowns getting the “it’s only a flesh wound” treatment.

That’s why the concern over valuable reserve forward Nikola Mirotic after the Bulls’ Game 2 victory over Milwaukee Monday night exceeded the measured tone of the team’s official postgame injury update.

Mirotic, limping considerably afterward both as he left the court and back in the locker room, had suffered a left quadriceps strain and was to be “re-evaluated in the morning.” But the 6-foot-10 rookie who blossomed deep into the season as Chicago’s sixth-man option also had a noticeable knot on his knee. There were worries, too, that he might have a concussion after his skirmish on the floor with 2:48 left to play with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia. The teams play again Thursday, with the Bulls holding a 2-0 lead as the best-of-seven series shifts to Milwaukee for the next two.

Mirotic didn’t talk with reporters and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had no further information when he met with the media afterwards. But teammate Pau Gasol did take stock of Mirotic’s hobbled state and didn’t appreciate Pachulia’s rugged work (and ejection) in a game that was much more physical than the series opener.

“Hopefully it won’t be anything serious,” Gasol said. “I think Zaza had a couple of bad plays, not basketball plays. He got penalized with technicals, but [the officials have] just got to protect players.”

Mirotic has averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and about 18 minutes in his first two playoff games. That’s a dip from his regular-season numbers, certainly from the 17.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg he averaged after March 1. But Mirotic logged nine minutes in the fourth quarter Monday, a sign of Thibodeau’s trust and the Bulls’ needs for his multiple skills in closing games.

Olajuwon gives Capela high marks


VIDEO: Clint Capela grabs the alley-oop for the dunk

HOUSTON — When the structured part of the Rockets practice is over, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard drift naturally toward one another.

If Olajuwon isn’t dipping his shoulder, spinning on one foot and giving Howard a few pointers on technique in the low post, then the pair are just huddled, chatting, nodding heads and trading tales and secrets of the paint.

But while the Hall of Famer gets most of his attention these days for working with the eight-time All-Star, Prof. Olajuwon did take notice of the fresh-faced member of his big man class. With Howard in foul trouble early, 20-year-old Clint Capela was first off the bench in Game 1 and opened a few eyes with his eight points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 16 minutes.

“He has tremendous potential,” Olajuwon said. “I’m just trying to encourage him to play to his strengths because he does so many things so well. To work with a guy like that is wonderful because his potential is great. His first experience in the playoffs, he played confident and played his game.”

The pregame advice from the legendary Rockets center to the newbie?

“Just to be himself and be comfortable,” said Olajuwon.  “He’s playing with a lot of veterans out there. Just play his game.”

 

Rockets ready for Mavericks’ zone

HOUSTON — Even though zone defenses are still more the exception than the norm in the NBA, don’t expect the Rockets to panic if, as expected, the Mavericks play a lot more of it in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series Tuesday night.

“We’ve seen it off and on throughout the year,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “Usually we’ve been able to handle it pretty well. The key is to just get the ball in certain spots. We have a couple key spots we try to get the ball into. That guy’s just got to be a decision maker.

“I thought in the first game we tried making home run plays from there. Sometimes you just got to lay down a bunch of singles. Just move it on to the weak side, move it on to the open man. It may not be the perfect pass, but it’s the next pass and then the pass after that or the pass after that will be the scoring pass. We just gotta get it moving.”

Williams made a good bench better


VIDEO: Lou Williams talks about his recovery and feeling at home in Toronto.

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors had one of the league’s best benches in 2013-14, with midseason arrivals Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez giving them a big boost on their way to their first playoff appearance in six years. But that didn’t stop general manager Masai Ujiri from acquiring the man who would go on to win the Kia Sixth Man Award.

That Lou Williams was acquired for basically nothing from the team that finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record makes the story all the more fascinating.

Williams had a tough stay in Atlanta, tearing his ACL 39 games into his first season there and trying to get back to full strength in his second year. But he flourished upon arriving in Toronto, where his instant offense helped the Raptors win their second straight division title

Williams earned 78 of a possible 130 first-place votes for the Sixth Man award, finishing ahead of the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas and the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford.

All season, the Raptors were at their best with their reserves in the game. They outscored their opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor and were outscored by 0.5 with him on the bench. Williams didn’t start any games this season (even when DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry were out), but he finished a lot, ranking third in the league in fourth-quarter minutes.

It’s important for a coach to feel comfortable when he goes to his bench. And Raptors coach Dwane Casey feels a lot more than just comfortable when he calls on his reserves, who consistently build on leads or turn deficits into leads.

“It’s huge,” Casey said. “When we get behind, we know that Lou is there, Patrick is there, our bench comes out and gives us a huge shot in the arm.”

It did last season too. But Williams brought added playmaking, which helped Toronto rank in the top three in offensive efficiency for the first time in franchise history. The Raptors were one of two teams that ranked in the top 10 last season and improved this season.

“When Lou comes in, we stretch the floor, get more up-tempo,” Casey said. “His ability to handle the ball, to go pick-and-rolls and be a semi-point guard is also a big benefit.”

20150420_sixth_man

The adversity he went through in Atlanta has Williams appreciating this award a lot more than he could have earlier in his career. He finished second for the award in 2011-12 behind current MVP candidate James Harden.

“It means tons more now,” he said, “to win it my first year in Toronto, to win it right after getting traded, and just to go through so much adversity. Timing is everything. So if I was ever going to win it, I think this was the perfect time for me.”

Williams doesn’t have all the athleticism he had before his knee injury, but he’s found a way to still be effective. He took almost 200 more 3-pointers this season than he had in any previous year.

“I learned so much about myself and how to be patient,” he said. “If you look at the first seven years of my career and look at me now, I think I’m a completely different player.”

He’s a crafty player, as evidenced by his league-leading 102 fouls drawn on jump shots.

20150416_js_fouls_drawn

“When you make shots, teams have to guard you honest,” he said. “And you start using that to your advantage, when guys want to reach in and be physical with you.”

Williams is the first Raptors player to win an individual end-of-season award since Vince Carter was named Rookie of the Year in 1999. A guard has won the Sixth Man award 10 of the last 11 seasons, with Lamar Odom (2010-11) being the only exception.

Business as usual for Bogut in playoffs

Andrew Bogut is finally able to contribute for the Warriors in the postseason. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Andrew Bogut is finally able to contribute for the Warriors in the postseason. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

OAKLAND — Business as usual, Andrew Bogut has said different times in different ways, and he’s right. Impactful defense, keeping the ball moving on offense, contributing 12 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals as his Warriors beat the Pelicans on Saturday is pretty typical.

These are the playoffs, though. That’s the difference. Bogut is back after missing the first-round series a year ago because of a fractured rib, a loss magnified by the way the Clippers hurt Golden State inside, making Game 1 against New Orleans his first playoff appearance May 16, 2013.

But, he insists, there is no difference. There is no special cause for celebration after being limited to life as a spectator in 2014 and going almost two years without getting on the court for the most-important time of the season. Game 1 was a victory, nothing more. Game 2, tonight at Oracle Arena, is a chance to get a step closer to advancing, just as if he never missed time.

“It’s not that long of a layoff,” he said. “It is what it is. I played in big games throughout my career. I played in Olympics, I played in all that. You know it definitely steps up a notch (in the postseason) and you’re ready for it. You just don’t want it to eat you up before game, where you’re over-preparing mentally and over-stressing. We’re the best team in the league record-wise, so the big thing for us was to just keep doing what we’re doing.

“It had been a year. I played the year before. I missed one year of playoffs and the season before I played in two rounds. It wasn’t like I forgot what the intensity was like. I was part of those games even though I wasn’t playing. I didn’t even give it any thought.”

Bogut has been a key part of the team that finished with the best regular season in the league, even at just 23.6 minutes per game. Just as the Warriors’ many blowouts provided rest for all the players in anticipation of a long playoff run, Bogut was fresh as he reached the playoffs.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I feel like I was in a bubble the whole year. Coach managed my minutes very well. I averaged the mid-20s the whole season and I’m feeling the benefits of it right now. My body feels good and now there’s no more back-to-backs, no more four-in-five. This is the time of year where if you can come in relatively healthy I think you’ll stay that way until the end of the season.”

A few other points heading into Game 2:

One of the challenges for Anthony Davis is to remain a force on the boards, after finishing tied for eight in rebounding during the regular season, while the Warriors force him away from the basket to defend Draymond Green. Davis had one rebound through three quarters in Game 1 before finishing with seven in 40 minutes as part of a big fourth period.

“It’s tough when I’m guarding a perimeter guy,” Davis said. “I can’t really go and crash the boards. They had Draymond on the perimeter. And when he shoots, it’s tough to go down there. So that’s really it. When other guys come in, it’s a lot easier for me to go down there and get a rebound.”

*Golden State’s Andre Iguodala finished fourth in voting for Sixth Man of the Year, far behind winner Lou Williams of the Raptors. “I was hoping I didn’t get it,” Iguodala said. “I really didn’t have a good year. I’m happy Lou got it. That’s my man, so I’m happy to see him win it. He had a great year for their team. He’s deserved it a few times, so I’m happy to see him win.”

*New Orleans coach Monty Williams hinted the Warriors are piping noise into Oracle Arena? If so, team officials turned down the volume in Game 1. It has been much louder, and sustained for longer stretches, before. It was definitely rocking at times, but Roaracle in the regular season can thump as much as some buildings in the playoffs. The crowds were great even when the team wasn’t.

Nets want no part of Horford, Hawks’ injury speculation


VIDEO: Al Horford dislocated his his finger in the fourth quarter of the Hawks’ Game 1 win over the Nets

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brook Lopez knows better than to step into the mess.

It doesn’t matter whether or not he has to face Hawks All-Star center Al Horford in Game 2 Wednesday night, he can’t win in the speculation-filled hours between then and now.

“You’re trying to trick me right now,” Lopez said Monday afternoon after the Nets finished up practice at Georgia Tech. “I’m not trying to say anything right now. I don’t want him (Horford) to go 10-for-10 on those pop shots. We’re going to play it the same way.”

Horford said Monday that there is still “some question” as to whether or not he’ll able to play with the right pinkie finger he dislocated in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Game 1 win. He didn’t say he was not going to play or that he definitely would. He finished the final six minutes of Game 1 with the finger taped up. But he was clearly uncomfortable and admitted to as much.

“It’s just sore,” Horford said. “They told me it would more sore today and I’ve just been doing more treatment on it since (Sunday night). I went out and shot some today and it felt good, so I was encouraged by that. Last night it didn’t feel good at all. You just have to get used to it. There is discomfort with it, though.”

Horford’s injury combined with Paul Millsap‘s ineffectiveness in Game 1, he was 2-for-11 from the floor and scored just 6 points in his second game back in uniform after missing five straight with a sprained shoulder, makes the Hawks vulnerable in the post. Lopez had his way with the Hawks in Game 1 with limited opportunities, he took just seven shots but made six to finish with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds..

“That’s not our problem,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “That’s [Hawks coach Mike] Budehnolzer‘s problem. All we can be concerned with is who and what we put on the floor.”

Millsap said his shoulder is fine and that he will try to improve his range of motion by maybe not playing with the padded compression sleeve he wore in Game 1.

“We played around with the pad and cut it in areas and tried to do different things to protect it,” Millsap said. “But you know, I might try and go without it the next game and see it how it goes. I guess I just upgraded it to might. I’m trying to balance it out, pain to mobility and I don’t know. We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

The Nets know better than to believe any doomsday scenarios that will keep the Hawks’ All-Star duo off the floor or in any kind of diminished capacity for Game 2. There is too much at stake for both teams. And Millsap even admitted that he couldn’t see any way that the Hawks aren’t ready to go.

“No, not at all,” Millsap said when asked if the Hawks had health concerns going forward. “With the depth that we have and the injuries, where they are. Al cane back and played. And he’s a tough guy. Myself, I’m a tough guy. With that, we still have depth and guys capable of coming and contributing.”