Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Teague’

Morning Shootaround — May 15

VIDEO: Daily Zap for Thursday’s playoff games


Rockets say they are ready to go all the way | LeBron an underdog … never | Pierce’s bravado versus Horford’s grit | Warriors get defensive to turn series around

No. 1: Rockets say they are ready to go all the way — An epic comeback is one thing. But what the Houston Rockets played and lived through last night in Los Angeles was something bigger, at least that’s what it felt like on the inside (from the 2:29 mark of the third quarter until the end it was the Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and the rest of the crew’s show minus James Harden). Rallying from that monstrous deficit and staving off elimination in the conference semifinals was just the first step to much, much bigger things, according to Corey Brewer. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle witnessed the madness:

As the Rockets took off, the Clippers crumbled. They missed 15-consecutive fourth-quarter shots, many coming at the rim or on rushed, but open jumpers. They made just 4 of 22 shots in the fourth quarter with Chris Paul tacking on a 3 at the buzzer as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

“They outplayed us in every sense of the word down the stretch,” Blake Griffin said. “We took our foot off the gas, stopped defending, a lot of things. Got to be better.
“You could tell we kind of got stunned, and we didn’t respond well.”

When the Clippers were rolling, Griffin had put the exclamation point on their run with a 360-degree spin in the air on a layup. He was 12 of 15 for 28 points after three quarters, then missed all five of his fourth-quarter shots.

“There was times where it just seemed like everything was going their way,” Howard said. “Blake hit 360, 180, I don’t know what it was, and I said, ‘Man, this is crazy.’ But we pulled together, we just kept saying we’re not going to quit, we’re not going to give up, we done come too far just to end it like this, and we just kept fighting.

“Josh hit some big shots. Everybody played great tonight, and we never quit. That’s why we got the win tonight. We kept believing, no matter how tough it got out there, because there was some rough times out there. As a team, we never gave up on each other.

The Clippers did not give up. There was not time for that. But they did break down, missing the sort of shots that had built the lead and led to the blowouts over the weekend.

“You know, I thought we were trying to run the clock out, and we stopped playing,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “They kept playing, and then once it got to eight, you could just feel it.

“I don’t think they thought that they had the game in the bag. I thought they thought, we walk the ball up the floor. I thought we got very tentative offensively, very few people even wanted to shoot in stretches, and you know, it happens. But it’s awful to watch. It’s awful for our team, and we have to figure out in the next 48 hours how to get them back, because we can’t get this one back. We gave this one away. There’s no doubt about that.”

Whether the Clippers gave it away, the Rockets took it or some combination of both, the teams head to Sunday’s Game 7 rolling in opposite directions. As Game 6 demonstrated, that does not mean much.

“I played in a lot of games in my life and you can get the vibe of games and think you have the chance to win,” Brewer said. “Like Trevor (Ariza) said at the beginning of the fourth – he said we are going to win a championship, but we have to win this game first.

“If we win this game right now, that’s how you become a champion.”



Allen might add to playoff injury woes

Oakland, Calif. — Tony Allen is a tough guy but he’s also human and therefore, prone to the same issue that’s ruining the playoffs for other players and teams.

As if these playoffs haven’t had enough carnage, the Warriors-Grizzlies series is about to feel the pinch should Allen, as expected, miss Game 5 with a hamstring pull. All morning the Grizzlies were coy about Allen’s status although the mood around Memphis spoke volumes. No one associated with the team was ready to declare him fit for duty and if anything, all signs pointed to Allen being an injury scratch. The final say on Allen is expected be announced about an hour before tipoff, after Allen puts his hamstring through a pre-game test.

It’s the same scenario that the Wizards and John Wall had before Game 2 of the Hawks-Wizards series when Wall tested his injured left hand and felt too much pain to play. It was later diagnosed with multiple fractures and Wall missed the next two games; his status for that series is uncertain.

As much as the post-season has been helped, from a dramatic standpoint, by a series of buzzer-beaters, it has been harmed by injuries. To different degrees, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Pau Gasol, DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Teague have been hampered during the playoffs. And remember, Kevin Love was knocked out with a damaged shoulder.

The shame of it all for Memphis is that Allen’s defense has helped the Grizzlies stay even with the best team record-wise in the NBA. Should he miss tonight’s game, his minutes will be taken by Jeff Green.



Morning shootaround — May 12

VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 11


Kerr helps get Curry on track | Gasol likely out, but Irving will play in Game 5 | Teague steps up in Game 4 | Dirk: ‘I definitely want to fulfill my contract’

No. 1: Kerr’s message helps Curry turn things around — Entering Monday’s Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA MVP Stephen Curry was averaging 21.7 ppg and shooting a paltry 27.6 percent on 3-pointers as the Golden State Warriors looked at a 2-1 series deficit. He turned those stats around drastically in Game 4, though, going for 33 points and shooting 4-for-9 on 3-pointers in the Warriors’ 101-84 road romp. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports, a morning chat with coach Steve Kerr may have been what Curry needed to get on track:

Before the Golden State Warriors gathered for the morning shootaround on Monday, Steve Kerr stopped his superstar for a 10-minute conversation. In a most blessed and blissful year, struggle had never found traction with Stephen Curry. The shots suddenly stopped falling in these Western Conference semifinals, and the coach of these Warriors hadn’t wanted to clutter Curry’s mind – only to deliver one overriding message.

Resist trying to do it yourself, Steph. Give the ball up, get it back and watch how the rhythm of it all transforms those misses into makes again.

“I never worry about his confidence,” Kerr told Yahoo Sports late Monday. “I don’t worry about anything with him. I just feel like there are times that he wants so badly to win, he tries to do too much.

“He’s still learning. That sounds crazy, because he’s the MVP of the league. But he’s still learning how to develop that rhythm, how to be patient and just move the ball, makes the easy pass – instead of trying to do it himself. That way, he’s much more likely to get hot in the game.”

This series promises to be vital for the growth of this Golden State franchise, a resolved and relentless Grizzlies core challenging the Warriors to be tougher and together.

As always, it started with Stephen Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Curry is the biggest bargain in the NBA, making $10.6 million this season. His Under Armour deal is far lower, but it’s possible that could be torn up and renegotiated at a market level this year, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

There’s forever a calm to Curry, an assurance, and he always finds his center again. He had been uncharacteristically rushed and ragged in Games 2 and 3. The Grizzlies’ defense played a part, but truth be told, he missed shots that he often makes. He needed to find his way back, and that path turned out to be the one Steve Kerr had promised on Monday morning. The NBA’s MVP didn’t need to go chasing shots, because these Warriors would find him in the flow of that system. Slowly, surely, Stephen Curry had shot these Warriors back into the series, back into control.

“He has as much self-belief as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Kerr told Yahoo Sports. “He’s still learning about the rhythm it takes. It’s not an easy concept for a guy who is so talented and relied upon so heavily. That’s all part of the growth, the process and tonight he got that, stayed with it and executed it.”

For 10 minutes, the coach of these Golden State Warriors cornered his superstar on Monday morning and spared the cluttering of a beautiful basketball mind. Kerr kept it simple, and Curry was a most willing subject.


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Stephen Curry’s big Game 4

*** (more…)

Hawks weigh rest versus rhythm

VIDEO: Will John Wall be ready for the Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals?

ATLANTA — The Washington Wizards, All-Star point guard John Wall in particular, needs rest.

He needs every second, every minute of every day between Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to rest that fractured left wrist and hand of his.

The Hawks, on the other hand, would just as soon get back to it as quickly as possible. The three days between games slows their momentum. They need to continue their rhythm more than they need three full days of rest between games.

It’s a delicate balance, managing the NBA playoff schedule, depending on which side of the good vibrations your team is on. For the Hawks, getting back on the winning track in Game 2 felt good. Taking a few days to cool off might not be to their benefit.

In fact, the quicker they get back to it, the better. Saturday’s 5 p.m. ET tipoff for Game 3 cannot get here fast enough.

“It feels good, physically it gives our bodies a rest,” Paul Millsap said of the break. “Mentally, we continue to prepare as a team and get better and either way I think it’s good for us.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said the time off allows he and his staff to lock in and tweak things and correct any areas where there has been noticeable slippage in his team’s performance. Jeff Teague‘s sore ankle also has time to rest, as does Al Horford‘s sore finger and whatever other bumps and bruises the Hawks are dealing with at this time.

“To have a couple of days to pay a little more attention to detail and pay attention to the purpose with which we do things, you feel like you can do it in practice and not be overtaxing,” Budenholzer said. “so hopefully, when we play on Saturday we’ll know much more. But hopefully, when you have a couple of extra days of practice it’s always a good thing.”

The grind of the quick turnaround from a Game 6 win over Brooklyn on a Friday night to a 1 p.m. tip Sunday for Game 1 against the Wizards, a game the Hawks lost, took its toll. So any natural break in the action between games can be used to the their advantage this time around.

“I think the break came for us at a good time,” Kyle Korver said. “We had a really quick turnaround between series. We had a really physical games here lately. I think we played the late game in New York. And I think I got to bed at 4:30 in the morning, came here and watched some film (on Saturday) and then played the early game on Sunday. And it’s been a couple of physical games in this series, so for us, for me and a lot of us, these couple of days in the middle have been great and you have to take advantage of them.”

The time off gives the Hawks a chance to recharge their batteries and the Wizards a chance to figure out how they proceed potentially without Wall in the mix. Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce and Ramon Sessions, who started in Wall’s place in Game 2, will all have to maintain an extremely high level of production to offset the absence of Wall, if he’s not cleared to play in Game 3 and or Game 4.

It doesn’t change any of the preparation plans for the Hawks, though. Wall’s status for the weekend is still being evaluated. The Hawks can’t wait. They leave for Washington tonight and will practice in Friday on site, readying themselves for a game Wizards team with or without their All-Star point guard in uniform.

“It was good to get back in the win column in this series,” Korver said. “We know we have to win one there (in Washington), so that’s our mindset.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 200): Cinco De Playoffs!


Pick one.

Cinco De Mayo … Taco Tuesday … the NBA’s conference semifinals on both sides of the playoff conference divide are upon us.

Whatever you do tonight and for the foreseeable future, you’ve got the playoffs to enjoy. And so far, there have been no disappointments.

The newly minted KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, are making sure of it. Same goes for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and (soon to show up) J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers; Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls; John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce of the Washington Wizards; Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul (as soon as he returns from resting that hamstring) of the Los Angeles Clippers; Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks, James Harden, Dwight Howard and … ah, you get the point.

Instead of focusing on who is not coming to our Cinco De Playoffs party, we’re focusing on those who are present on Episode 200 of The Hang Time Podcast. And despite a tremendous marketing campaign to the contrary, there are plenty of guys interested in playing hero this time of year. In fact, it’s a right of passage.

So whoever you root for, wherever you are, pull up a seat and join us for Episode 200 of The Hang Time Podcast: Cinco De Playoffs?


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of,  Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

VIDEO: Stephen Curry is your new KIA MVP

Numbers preview: Hawks-Wizards

VIDEO: Arena Link: Al Horford speaks about the Hawks’ Game 6 win.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — For much of the season, the Atlanta Hawks were the best team in the Eastern Conference by a wide margin. Then they were on cruise control over the final month of the season and in the first few games of the first round.

But the Hawks may have rediscovered their mojo as they closed out the Brooklyn Nets in six games. The offense had the ball movement and player movement that made it so successful in the regular season, and the defense locked a surprisingly feisty Nets team down in Game 6.

The Washington Wizards, meanwhile, seemingly changed identities once the playoffs began. They played small, spread the floor and shot 3-pointers against the Toronto Raptors, stunning their opponent and anyone who had watched them all season.

Their new-found offensive success gives them some hope for a trip to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. But the Hawks, though they haven’t been to the next round since 1970, are not the Raptors … on either end of the floor.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Hawks-Wizards, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Atlanta Hawks (60-22)

Beat Brooklyn in six games.
Pace: 96.0 (7)
OffRtg: 103.6 (9)
DefRtg: 99.1 (5)
NetRtg: +4.5 (6)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Hawks first-round notes:

Washington Wizards (46-36)

Beat Toronto in four games.
Pace: 96.9 (3)
OffRtg: 112.5 (1)
DefRtg: 95.4 (2)
NetRtg: +17.0 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards first-round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Pace: 98.6
ATL OffRtg: 109.1 (3rd vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 100.1 (16th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Hawks are true believers … in the film

VIDEO: Is the pressure on the Hawks elevating as the games go by in their series with the Nets?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For a team as married to their methodical process this season as the Hawks have been, it’s no surprise that they are as measured as they are heading into what is easily their biggest game of the season.

Game 5 on Wednesday night at Philips Arena, with their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets all tied up at 2-2, is the Hawks’ Super Bowl. And yet they are not at all unnerved by the pressure that comes with a No. 1 seed needing at least six games to finish off the No. 8 Nets.

Because when you study your own film as diligently as these Hawks have all year, you’re a — to borrow a Hawks’ marketing slogan — true believer in the power to rectify things after back-to-back losses in this series.

The initial emotion after their Game 4 overtime loss Monday in Brooklyn was anger. But after Tuesday’s film session, Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap spoke of the excitement he and his teammates felt after studying what went on during their trip to Brooklyn. “Watching film puts everything in perspective,” he said. “They played a good game and made tough shots. We played a good game and didn’t make plays.”

If only it were that simple.

The Hawks couldn’t put the Nets away while operating with a 12-point cushion in Game 4 and Deron Williams went wild, matching his playoff career-high with 35 points, as the Nets exploited the situation to their benefit. You don’t have to watch the film to figure out that the Hawks, 4-0 against the Nets during the regular season by a double-digit average victory margin, are locked into something other than a runaway first round series against an overmatched No. 8 seed.

On a night the Hawks won the rebounding battle by 15 (55-40), they turned the ball over 18 times and did not handle themselves like a championship team in the final seconds of regulation. They didn’t even get a shot off with a chance to win the game with 6.2 seconds to play.

“I feel like we may have settled for too many jump shots,” Millsap said. “We’re a better team when we’re in attack mode, especially myself and Jeff [Teague], collapsing the defense. Our mindset is still, we feel like we can do it, especially after watching film seeing some of the missed ques. We felt like we played good enough to win the game. We’re still pretty confident.”

The Nets might not have the track record of playing above and beyond their 38 regular season wins, but their confidence is soaring as well. In Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack and others, they are showing themselves to be every bit up to the challenge of the moment.

“Definitely, the guys rallying around me means a lot,” said Williams, who scored a total of 18 points through the first three games of the series. “It just shows that we’re coming together as a unit.”

If the Hawks didn’t take the Nets seriously as a threat before the series began, they certainly do now. The pressure mounts on the home team in each and every game left to be played.

“I feel like, hopefully, our group and has given Brooklyn their due credit,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.  “They played well down the stretch of the (regular) season. It’s been a hell of a four games so far. They have talented players as we do. They deserve credit for the way they are playing and our group does, too. It’s a series. It’s 2-2.”

And when you get shoved back into this position, the first place the Hawks turn is to the film and their internal examination of what’s gone wrong. The Hawks certainly are not playing like the machine that won 19 straight games during the regular season, the crew that blew away the Eastern Conference en route to a 60-win season.

“I think it’s always great to go back and watch the film and learn from it,” Budenholzer said. “You see where we can be better and improve and take that, together as a group, and go from there. It’s exciting to go into playing and taking what we saw from film and taking it onto the court. If you are a competitor, you’re unhappy if things don’t go your way. If you can turn that anger into the appropriate focus and attention [in Game 5] … that’s a positive with the group we have.”

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.

VIDEO: Popovich explains how he told Budenholzer about the award

“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.”

Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage

VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”

Morning Shootaround — March 21

VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 20


Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news | LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night | Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase

No. 1: Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news — It’s truly Russell Westbrook‘s team now in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with no reasonable expectation that he will return this season, whether the Thunder make the playoffs or not. Whatever the circumstance, Westbrook is bringing the energy and effort needed to lead the charge for Scott Brooks‘ team, just as he did Friday night in the Thunder’s takedown of the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. Love him or hate him, right now the underdog is on top after collecting his ninth triple double and pushing the Thunder up the ladder in the chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

The Thunder’s already wavering title hopes took a potentially fatal blow on Friday morning with the latest Kevin Durant injury setback.

But by late Friday night, Russell Westbrook and a patched together lineup had already reminded the basketball world that — while a championship run is now hard to fathom — high-level hoops entertainment will remain for the next month-plus in Oklahoma City.

The East-leading Atlanta Hawks came to town, packing a potent offense to feast on the Thunder’s slumping defense. Void of Serge Ibaka to clean up mistakes, OKC struggled on that end again.

But as has been common of late, even without double-double machine Enes Kanter on this night, the Thunder went all mid-2000s Phoenix Suns and succeeded in outscoring a scoring machine. The final: Thunder 123, Hawks 115.

“It was like an ABA game out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked.

With the win, OKC became only the fourth NBA team to ever go from nine games under .500 to nine games over in the same season.

And Westbrook, again, was at the center of it all, finishing with 36 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season.

Instead of an emotional letdown after the latest Durant news, the Thunder came out energized and angry, jumping on the Hawks in the opening minutes. Westbrook had seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter. OKC, at one point, held an early nine-point lead.

But after the Hawks weathered that early storm, OKC’s faulty defense sprung leaks and Atlanta started splashing jumpers from all over the floor. On this night, reserve big man Pero Antic played the role of random dude to roast the Thunder’s perimeter defense, going off for 18 points in 12 first half minutes.

The Hawks led 68-61 at halftime. With two minutes left in the third quarter, that lead had ballooned to 12. Shorthanded, it looked like the Thunder would come up short, fittingly capping an emotionally tough day for the franchise.

But then Anthony Morrow got hot and the tone of the game changed.

With 7:54 left in the fourth quarter, Morrow splashed in his third three of the night, cutting the Hawks lead to four. It was the sixth consecutive game Morrow has hit at least three 3s, one of the hotter stretches of his storied shooting career.

But he was just getting started. Over the next four minutes of game action, Morrow drilled three more 3s, the crowd noise rising and the Thunder’s momentum building with each splash.

“I’ve never experienced (a playoff atmosphere),” Morrow said. “But (Westbrook) said that was close to it.”

VIDEO: Russell Westbrook lifted the Thunder on the night they found out Kevin Durant’s season could be over 

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