Posts Tagged ‘Mike Budenholzer’

Bazemore, Hawks not looking back as they strive for more success


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore talks about the Hawks’ new uniforms

By Nick Margiasso IV, NBA.com

The Hawks had a pretty unforgettable season in 2014-15. So, how do they follow it up this campaign?

By forgetting about it.

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore and his teammates are ready to turn the page, confident they know the way now after pushing their success to a high point.

“The good thing about pro sports is that every season is a new season,” the third-year defensive specialist said. “We understand what it takes to win 60 games in this league. It’s not any extra pressure or anything different other than to go out and play hard. Every team starts out 0-0 and has the same 82-game grind.”

Bazemore, and surely the Hawks’ faithful, are clamoring to see how the new pieces (and old pieces) fit with the proven ones going into a new season. Whether the squad can keep building on the league’s second-longest playoff streak (behind the Spurs) will largely be up to those fresh faces and how ex-Spurs assistant and reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer maneuvers them into his plan.

“We get Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha back, we added Tiago Splitter, Justin Holiday and Tim Hardaway Jr. — it’s going to be interesting” Bazemore said. “But now we are young, deep, long and athletic. We have a group of guys that will be ready to roll night-in and night-out.”

A lot is made of chemistry in the NBA, especially it would seem on a sort of star-less group like the Hawks, but Bazemore downplays the effort it takes to build that up. If you’re ready to play, it’ll come in due time around Philips Arena, it seems.

“Continuity is not as pertinent in the NBA as people think it is,” Bazemore said. “With all the new money, players want more and teams are trying to move people around to open things up, most teams aren’t bringing the same guys back every year.

“If you love winning, it brings everyone together. You can have the best character people in the world, but winning plays a big part in that chemistry.”

Bazemore is focused on being one of those locked-in, winning players that bring a successful mentality every night. He’s determined to better his nearly across-the-board best campaign of 2014-15 — career highs in games played, minutes, rebounds, steals and blocks — by doing what he knows best.

“I’m just going to continue to try to be one of the best defenders in the NBA,” Bazemore said. “I’ve been doing a lot of alternate training this offseason, playing tennis, golf and certain things to shape my brain to think differently.

“Basketball is always go, go, go, but the best players can see it differently and slow it down. So, I think working on tempo and other things is going to take my game to the next level.”

With talk like that, Budenholzer may have found himself just the kind of floor presence that will be in tune with the mentality the Hawks are betting on to keep on their pedestal atop the East.

Blogtable: First woman coach or president?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on new playoff seeding? | 2015-16 All-Bench Team | First woman coach or president?



VIDEO: Impact of Becky Hammon

> What will we see first: a woman in an NBA head coach’s office, or a woman in the oval office?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThis question risks getting political, which would violate the Michael Jordan rule of sports — that is, Democrats and Republicans both spend money on the NBA — so it serves no good purpose alienating either. From a simple timeline standpoint, if there’s no woman in the White House by January 2017, it probably wouldn’t happen until January 2021 at the earliest — by which time Becky Hammon or someone else certainly would have been hired (and, demonstrating true equality in that profession, maybe even fired by then too). My one hope is that, whichever happens first, it happens because of merit, not symbolism.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: How about we just vote Becky Hammon president and let her appoint Gregg Popovich as Secretary of Snarling?  I’m going with the Oval Office.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI like Hillary Clinton’s chances better than Becky Hammon’s. And speaking of Hammon, I want to see her on the bench one day soon, but would hate if she’s rushed along just for the sake of making history. Hammon has only been an assistant coach for one season and doesn’t even sit next to Popovich on the Spurs’ bench yet. By comparison, Mike Budenholzer spent 16 years on the Spurs’ bench before taking the Hawks’ job (and winning Coach of the Year).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: A Spurs assistant coach doesn’t need to be in the chair next to Gregg Popovich to get poached by another team (see Jacque Vaughn to Orlando), and Becky Hammon’s Summer League experience definitely accelerates her progress toward a head coaching job. But I’ll still go with the Oval Office, because there’s a decent chance of happening in January of 2017.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIt pains me that this question still needs to be asked in 2015. Seriously. They are both long overdue. But I’m going with the Oval Office, mostly because of the competency of the candidate already neck-deep in the race. The fact is, any knuckledragger still underestimating the ability of someone of any gender, race, creed or color to do the job needs to be voted off the island. I’ve listened for days now about people worrying that a female coach might not be able to connect in a NBA locker room and struggling to garner respect from her potential peers and others. It’s garbage. Every coach is going to face that challenge at one time or another. And while we’re on the subject, no woman will be able to prove those foolish theories wrong until someone in the decision-making ranks musters the courage to give her the shot. Just saying.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Right now you have to say that Hillary Clinton is closer to her goal than Becky Hammon is to hers — but someday there will be women in both chairs.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All-Ball BlogEither way, I think we’re going to see one of these happen soon. Forced to choose, my guess is we get a woman president first, maybe even next year. Becky Hammon obviously proved her worth as an NBA coach, but winning a Summer League title isn’t an automatic guarantee of success as an NBA coach, or even a direct ticket to a head coaching gig. Although put to a public vote, I suspect there are a few fanbases that might vote to give Hammon a chance immediately.

Report: Hawks to promote Budenholzer, will soon part ways with Ferry

From NBA.com staff reports

After months of uncertainty about the state of the franchise, the Atlanta Hawks were sold to Antony Ressler for $850 million in late April. That move won’t be made official until the NBA’s Board of Governors approves it next week and, when that goes through, more front office changes are apparently coming for the Hawks.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Hawks plan to promote coach Mike Budenholzer to the role of president, make Wes Wilcox the new general manager and officially part ways with GM Danny Ferry:

The Atlanta Hawks plan to promote coach Mike Budenholzer to the franchise’s ultimate basketball decision-maker, clearing the path to part ways with exiled general manager Danny Ferry, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Budenholzer will become president and head coach, partnering in the front office with Wes Wilcox, who will become the Hawks’ general manager, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Hawks’ new ownership group, led by Tony Ressler, cannot negotiate those agreements until the NBA’s Board of Governors approves the sale to Ressler at a meeting on June 24 in New York. Once Ressler’s group – which includes Rick Schnall, Sara Blakely and Jesse Itzler – takes over, its first order of business will be to negotiate contracts with Budenholzer and Wilcox, league sources said.

With Ferry, Wilcox was instrumental in constructing an innovative roster that achieved at a high level despite still staying several million dollars below the salary cap. Wilcox has been a front office executive under Ferry with the Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers.

After Ferry’s part in a racially insensitive audio tape born out of a staff conference call surfaced publicly in September, the Hawks moved him into a paid leave of absence that lasted through the season. An internal Hawks investigation led to the NBA forcing majority owner Bruce Levenson to sell the team, and Ferry ultimately being separated from day-to-day front office duties.

In his exile, Ferry has gathered support from key decision-makers around the NBA and most expect that he’ll work again soon in a front-office capacity.

Budenholzer will be the fourth coach that is also in charge of basketball operations, joining a group that already includes Doc Rivers (Clippers), Flip Saunders (Timberwolves) and Stan Van Gundy (Pistons). The Hawks have the 15th pick in the Draft, but Budenholzer’s biggest task this summer will be dealing with the free agency of starters DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap, both of whom should be up for big raises.

 

Hawks refuse to give up on their system


VIDEO: The Cavs’ defense has helped them to a 3-0 series lead

CLEVELAND — The Atlanta Hawks are facing a sweep in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT), and it seems to have confirmed the doubts of those who didn’t believe in their regular season success.

The Hawks won 60 games (going 33-2 stretch at one point) and ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency with a system that stressed balance and cohesion. And here they are, down 0-3 to a team that’s relying heavily on the best player in the world.

Conclusion? Talent beats system, and the most important thing in postseason basketball is having a go-to guy.

The Hawks don’t want to hear that noise.

“You can’t judge three games over 82 games,” backup guard Shelvin Mack said Monday. “Our record speaks for itself. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get it done.”

They almost figured out a way on Sunday. Playing in Cleveland without Kyle Korver or Al Horford (for the second half), they withstood a historical performance from LeBron James and had opportunities to make this a 2-1 series.

“We know we can compete at a high level,” Hawks point guard Jeff Teague said. “We know we can beat this team.”

Teague had a good look to win the game in regulation. Mack had a wide-open corner 3-pointer to tie the game at the end of overtime. The NBA postseason isn’t nearly as random as its baseball counterpart, but there still can be a fine line between winning and losing each game.

The Hawks were on the wrong side of chance on Sunday, but came out believing that they have control over the outcome of these games.

“[In Game 3] we were more decisive,” forward Paul Millsap said. “We were attacking. If we’re open, we shoot it. Drive, pass it, just more decisiveness.”

Of course, with the notion that playing with more purpose gave them a chance to win in Game 3 comes the realization that doing the same in the two games at home could have made this a totally different series. But there’s no going back, and there’s probably no coming back either. No NBA team in history has ever come back from down 0-3 to win a best-of-seven series.

Still, the Hawks aren’t going to come out of this series with the belief that they need to do things differently. Injuries have taken a toll, and really, they only have to look back at The 2014 Finals to know that balance and cohesion can win championships.

“Every team has different ways to build and different ways to give themselves what they feel is their best chance,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said Monday. “There’s no doubt the way that we built the team with a lot of really good players, a lot of high-character guys, we feel like we can compete and play with anybody in the league. They’ve done it a different way, and it’s a great battle.”

If you’re taking the long view, a loss in the conference finals would be a step in the process. The Hawks have two key free agents — Millsap and DeMarre Carroll — this summer. But they have the ability to retain both, pick up where they left off, address the minor flaws that have been exposed in these playoffs, and keep doing what they’re doing.

“We feel like we can play that style of basketball throughout the course of the playoffs,” Millsap said. “Thus far we’ve been hanging on. We’ve still got another game to go out there and prove it.”

They’re not going to prove it one night. But Game 4 is another opportunity to show the world the value of the system.

“Obviously, someone’s going to win or lose,” Budenholzer said, “but this is the way we’re built. We believe in it. We think we can win at a high level, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Bazemore to start Game 3 for Hawks


VIDEO: GameTime: Korver out for remainder of playoffs

CLEVELAND — There is no replacing Kyle Korver, but Kent Bazemore will be the new man in the Atlanta Hawks’ starting lineup for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

With Korver’s season over because of a severely sprained ankle suffered in Game 2 on Friday, the Hawks are in a desperate situation without their most important offensive weapon. Whether Korver’s been shooting or not, the Atlanta offense has been at its best with him on the floor.

The new Hawks lineup started two regular season games — losses at Golden State and Oklahoma City in March — when Korver was out with a broken nose. But it has played just 66 total minutes together and less than six in the playoffs.

The film from the loss to the Warriors made it clear how much Korver was missed. Shooting is critical, not just for the shots that go in or out, but for the spacing it creates for others. There’s a reason that Korver has played more minutes with both DeMarre Carroll (1,749) and Bazemore (579) than Carroll and Bazemore have played together (478).

The Hawks have been outscored by 84 points in those 478 minutes. That’s partly because Bazemore/Carroll is somewhat of a situational combination, which has been on the floor for a lot more defensive possessions than offensive possessions. But the Atlanta offense hasn’t been great with the two on the floor together, scoring just 100.7 points per 100 possessions.

Still, the Cavs, like the Nets and Wizards before them, have done a good job of denying Korver his shots. And a different look from Bazemore could be a positive.

“He’s been attacking, driving, and getting to the basket well,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Bazemore. “As the playoffs have gone on, he’s kind of gotten a better feel and sense for when to attack.”

Bazemore has shot 7-for-9 in the series thus far. He’s 7-for-7 on 2-pointers and 0-for-2 on threes.

After Game 2, Bazemore said “I still think we’re the better team. We just haven’t shown it yet.”

From the opening tip of Game 3, he’ll get the chance to prove himself right.

“One the road, Game 3, backs against the wall,” Bazemore said Sunday, “We’re going to let it all hang out, go out there and just play some hoops.”

Morning Shootaround — May 24


VIDEO: Saturday night was Stephen Curry’s night in Houston

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry is the real MVP | LeBron is the B.O.A.T. | Korver, Hawks all but done? | Wounded Rockets stunned by loss | Skiles the frontrunner for the Magic job

No. 1: Steph Curry is the real MVP — The debate is over. Stephen Curry is the “real MVP.” If that is not clear after three games of the Curry-James Harden duel in the Western Conference finals, you need a new pair of glasses. Curry’s brilliance was on full display in the Warriors’ Game 3 win in Houston Saturday night. And good luck finding a comparable talent, a topic our very own Fran Blinebury explored in the aftermath of the Warriors’ huge win:

The record book now says that after hitting 7-for-9 from long range to ignite his 40-point, seven-assist, five-rebound, two-steal bonfire and an embarrassing 115-80 beatdown of the Rockets, Curry is now the most prolific 3-point shooter in the history of the playoffs, passing the legendary likes of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.

Your eyes that pop wide open, your ears that can hear the wind getting sucked right out of the arena and any sense of innate rhythm that runs from your head to your feet say you don’t need any list of numbers to tell you he’s a completely different breed of cat.

“I think it’s the ball-handling that leads to the shot,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “People ask me all the time who I would compare him with. I played with Mark Price years ago. Mark had a skill set that was really fun to watch, great ball handler, quick pull-up on a dime. Steve Nash, although Steve really preferred to make the pass and he was a reluctant shooter, could still shoot off the dribble.

“But I don’t think we’ve seen anybody this quick, [with] ability to create space and then pull up and six, seven feet beyond the line, with this kind of fearlessness and confidence. He’s really something.”

That was perhaps one thing a few of the swells in the high-priced front row seats were saying midway through the third quarter when Curry grabbed the rebound off a missed layup by Klay Thompson, ran to the left corner, turned to drill one more trey, stared at the crowd, then removed his mouthpiece to return verbal fire.

“That’s the fun with playoff basketball on the road,” Curry said. “You’ve got hecklers and guys up close that paid of a lot of money for those seats that want to get their money’s worth. It’s fun. You know, those are just genuine reactions.

“I think the one in the corner, a guy said — it was a four-letter word I can’t repeat. But that’s the one I turned around and just said, ‘Sit down.’ Just having fun with him, go about my business, get back on defense. If they want to talk, hopefully they can take some back in my fashion.”

(more…)

Korver’s absence, series edge won’t impact Cavaliers’ use of Irving


VIDEO: Blatt on Irving, Game 3

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – No one would blame the Cleveland Cavaliers if they loaded up injured point guard Kyrie Irving‘s dance card with contingencies that had nothing to do with his aching left knee.

Irving, who sat out Game 2 Friday in Atlanta after playing only 27 minutes in the series opener, would appear to be facing no urgency to rush back into action, given Cleveland’s 2-0 edge in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. The series has shifted to the Cavaliers’ home court for the next two games. The Hawks’ lineup took a serious hit Saturday when sharpshooter Kyle Korver (right high-ankle sprain) was ruled out for the rest of his team’s postseason.

And with the Finals set to start on June 4, the longer the Cavs could go before Irving puts any fresh wear or tear on his knee likely would be helpful in dealing with Golden State or Houston for a championship.

But that isn’t how Irving’s team is approaching his absence. Coach David Blatt said Irving still is listed as questionable for Game 3 Sunday and that his participation will be determined by Irving and a doctor’s decision.

“If he’s able to play, then he’ll play,” Blatt said. “He’s a big part of the team and the series is not finished. But if he’s not able to play, he won’t.”

That’s the problem Atlanta faces in the wake of Korver’s playoff-ending injury, suffered in the third quarter Friday when Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova rolled onto the Hawks player’s ankle while diving for a loose ball. Korver had struggled with his shot at times lately, but few this side of Steph Curry are as feared from 3-point range. Atlanta was 5-2 this postseason when the 34-year-old wing player made at least three attempts from the arc.

“We will miss him,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters Saturday. “It’s very, very difficult for him personally but more so for how much this team has done together, how much he’s been a part of that. He’s a huge part of our leadership, our fabric, our fiber.”

Budenholzer said he had not decided who would replace Korver in the starting lineup. The Hawks already are shorthanded with perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha hurt in a confrontation with New York police in April. Also, DeMarre Carroll – Budenholzer’s preferred defender vs. LeBron James – still is nursing a sore knee suffered late in Game 1.

“Injuries are such a big part of our league and a big part of the playoffs,” Budenholzer said. “Everybody has to deal with them, and we’re not any different. Of course, we’d like to have everyone healthy and be at full speed. That’s the ideal. But you can’t spend too much time or frustration thinking about it or concerned about it.”

Cleveland knows all too well, with Irving hobbled – the point guard did play some 1-on-1 after his team’s practice with assistant coach Phil Handy providing resistance – and Kevin Love’s postseason wiped out by a shoulder injury in the first-round finale against Boston.

The Cavaliers have grown in confidence and competence around their leader, LeBron James. And while it might seem as if James is back in his early Cleveland era, as far as limited star assistance, he didn’t breathe any life into that theory Saturday.

“I never felt I had to do it by myself, even in the past,” James said. “Mentally, I just wasn’t who I am today. My hard drive wasn’t as big as it is today. That’s all it comes from. I’m able to handle a lot of situations that I wasn’t able to handle at 24, 25 years old.

“I just tried to do it [before] by just playing the game of basketball, just going out and just playing – that’s such a small dosage of what the game is all about. The mental side is way more important than the physical and just playing basketball.”

Until the next sore knee or high-ankle sprain, anyway.

The Cavs-Hawks style referendum


VIDEO: Can the Hawks’ team-first approach defeat the Cavaliers’ star-first approach?

ATLANTA — Much will be made of the contrast in styles between the combatants in the Eastern Conference finals.

The ultimate superstar in LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers versus the ultimate team in the Atlanta Hawks and arguably the best starting unit in basketball this season. It sounds good and lends itself to the underlying drama every playoff series of this magnitude requires.

Whether or not there is any actual validity to that theory, however, remains to be seen.

We’ll know better after Game 1 tonight at Philips Arena (8:30 ET, TNT), when we get our first look at these two teams and their styles that have led them to the brink of fighting for a championship. There is no need in rehashing the particulars of how these teams have arrived here. The Cavaliers rely heavily on LeBron to trigger all things, on both ends of the floor. He is at the center of everything they do, the same as he’s always been on whatever team he’s played on, dating back to his biddy ball days in his native Akron.

The Hawks — their four All-Stars (Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver) and playoff MVP (DeMarre Carroll) — are focused around that five-man unit that has excelled all season long. When they needed to surge past Brooklyn in the first round, they took turns playing hero. Same goes for the way they handled things in the conference semifinals when they needed to squeeze past Washington.

While the Hawks’ main focus will be on LeBron and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers know that they won’t have the luxury of locking into any single player in an effort to slow the Hawks down.

“For us defensively, we have to be in tune,” LeBron told reporters in Cleveland after practice earlier this week. “First of all, the most important thing is the ball and the ball is going to start in Jeff Teague’s hands and then from that point on to Kyle Korver to DeMarre Carroll to Al Horford to Paul Millsap on to the guys that come in after them.”

Cleveland’s role player have stepped up, particularly J.R. Smith, Iman ShumpertTristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavadova, but they still won’t draw the focus of the Hawks the way LeBron and Kyrie will. The Hawks don’t change who and what they are based on the opponent, choosing instead to stick to the principles on both ends of the floor that produced their franchise-record 60-win season and breakthrough to the conference finals.

So even if there are some who are trying create the narrative that this series is a referendum on which style of play will prevail, the Hawks aren’t necessarily interested in playing that game. This isn’t a battle between the pace-and-space style and the hero ball style that has ruled the roost for years.

“Hero, that word,” Korver said. “It is unique. There’s only so many elite, elite superstars. The rest of us have to figure out how to win. So this is how we do it. And we feel like it’s a good way to play, a fun way to play. And a fun game to watch. This is who we are and we’ve all kind of taken turns taking and making shots at the end and it’s probably going to continue to be that way. The last series it felt like every game was down to the wire and different guys made different plays in different games. Gonna be the same thing this time around.”

Even if they don’t want to dive in on the narrative, Korver is well aware that the trial of this style versus that style will rage on.

“It feels like it’s been on trial for a while, huh?” he said. “Feels like we get asked this question a lot. Obviously, the fire keeps burning brighter. And that’s okay. That’s what we play for. We’re not here trying to sell the world that this is better than hero ball or whatever. This is just who we are and how we have to play and it gives us our best chance to win. And we’re just trying to do it the best that we can.”

Horford savors Hawks’ breakthrough


VIDEO: Al Horford played hero for the Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

ATLANTA — Al Horford never put a timetable on it.

He wasn’t thinking that far ahead when the Hawks made him the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and he went from two-time college champion to starting center for a struggling outfit in Atlanta, where he knew enough to know that there would be no Final Fours and contending for titles right away.

Fast forward eight years and Horford and the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, facing off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to go to The Finals. To say this ride has been something of a roller coaster would be an understatement of epic proportions. And not just this stunning season, one that began with no one outside of the Hawks’ most die-hard of supporters believing this sort of dream season was possible, but the entire trip from the moment he arrived to now, the moment when he and the Hawks have truly arrived.

“I think you acknowledge it,” Horford said of the Hawks’ breakthrough to the conference final round for the first time in the franchise’s Atlanta history. “But then you move on and realize that is more work to be done. That’s what I did after Game 6 in Washington. It was like, ‘man, that’s good but we still want more and we are still looking forward to the next round.'”

The compressed schedule for mountain climbing in college makes it much easier to get caught up in the moment at that level. Superstar players spend one, maybe two and rarely three seasons on campus before departing for the adventure that is professional basketball. Horford did not enter Florida as a guaranteed pro, a surefire one-and-done prospect headed for the top of the Draft. His journey was different.

And he knew that from the start. That’s what made winning back-to-back titles with the Gators so great. Same goes for a NBA career that began with him being selected behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant eight years ago. The road to back to respectability for the Hawks has been an arduous one. The fact that it’s been paved on Horford’s watch, with his blood, sweat and perhaps a tear or two over the years, makes this moment even sweeter than you might imagine.

Once the youngster of the bunch — playing alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Bibby and others — Horford’s the seasoned veteran now. A three-time All-Star, he’s the one pointing the way for youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, alongside fellow veterans and All-Stars Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and veteran swingman DeMarre Carroll. 

As much hard work as it takes to grind away this long before reaching the conference finals, it also takes a ton of patience to continue plugging away with all of the distractions, on and off the court, that came up along the way. The cast of characters has changed dramatically and there have been regime changes in the front office and coaching ranks. The one constant has been Horford and his undeniable work ethic and desire to be better this year than he was the year before.

“You’ve got to look at yourself as an individual and it depends on where your goals are,” he said. “I always wanted to be a better player. I always wanted to challenge myself. For me it’s just, I feel like the league is changing quickly and every year I want to make sure I can be better and to put my team into a position to be successful. That’s always my mindset, to make it a point of just getting better and not feeling content with what you have done.”

Horford has found a kindred spirit in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival before the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a totally different program than what the Hawks were used to. The emphasis on player development and individual skill building became more than just operational procedure. It became a mission for all involved.

The results are obvious.

The best season in franchise history during the regular season. The breakthrough, finally, to the conference finals. And who know what else looms on the horizon in the next two weeks. There are children growing up in Atlanta who will identify Horford’s time with the Hawks as some of the greatest times in franchise history, from the flash of the Highlight Factory days to this trip to the NBA’s version of the Final Four and the matchup against LeBron, the face of a generation in the NBA.

“When you get to this point, if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to go through the best players and teams,” Horford said. “There are no shortcuts when you get to this stage of the season. We have a huge challenge in front of us, and we obviously don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but I think this is the way you want to do things.”

Morning Shootaround — May 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets survive the chaos to return to conference finals | Doc’s message to the Clippers | LeBron at his best? | Hawks and Josh Smith in conference finals

No. 1: Rockets survive the chaos to return to conference finals — The righteous rally from that 3-1 series deficit came with the fairly tale ending the Houston Rockets imagined, complete with the unusual suspects providing many of the highlights. But no one should dismiss the obstacles and adversity the Rockets faced in storming to three straight wins in their Western Conference semifinal showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. Our very own Fran Blinebury, a man who chronicled past championship teams in Houston, puts the accomplishments of this current Rockets crew in context:

The Rockets didn’t just return to the Western Conference finals for the first time in nearly two decades. They did it in the very same manner as their famous forebears, with the kind of escape worthy of the Great Houdini.

Down 3-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series. They stood with their toes dangling over the edge of the cliff for three straight games and never felt their knees buckle.

Down by 19 points with less than 15 minutes to play in Game 6, they never blinked.

Son of Clutch City. Clutch City Jr. Clutch City 2.0. Pick your descendant.

“There’s only a handful of teams that have done that,” said the resurrected MVP runner-up James Harden after 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the clincher. “We were locked in since being down 3-1. We just said one game, one game, one game.”

When it finally came down to that one game — Game 7 — on a throwback Sunday afternoon at Toyota Center, they grabbed it by the neck from the opening tip and weren’t going to let go until the Clippers ultimately surrendered and the 113-100 victory was complete.

Harden attacked at the offensive end. Dwight Howard was tall and ferocious at the defensive end and every other player that coach Kevin McHale ran out onto the court kicked in his own contribution in some way. International veteranPablo Prigioni, on his 38th birthday, was every bit as important as either of the two marquee stars with his steals and his hustle and his relentless smarts.

This kind of comeback, this kind of emotional turnaround, doesn’t happen without a total buy-in from every single man on the roster. There cannot be a weak link, a single crack in the wall that allows doubt to leak through.

“The guys that we have in this locker room, it’s easy to get down 19 on the road and then just give in and say, ‘Maybe next year,’ ” Harden said. “But I think the injuries this year, throughout the entire year, it’s kind of made us fight through adversity no matter what. So we’ve always been short, down a man It’s always finding a way to get through, finding a way to fight it.”

That the overwhelming capper came just seven days after the Rockets had been whipped and beaten down and humiliated in Game 4 at Los Angeles to dig their 3-1 hole was surprising. That it came at the end of three straight desperation games was positively shocking. And it could be another two decades before another Rockets team — or any other, for that matter — matches that electric comeback.

“It just tells us that we are capable of winning three games in a row,” said McHale. “The guys in there just had a lot of fight and we don’t get to this if not for Trev [Ariza], [Corey] Brew[er], Josh [Smith], Dwight and Jet [Jason Terry]. What they put on in that fourth quarter in Game 6 was amazing. That 40-15 run, you don’t see that very often and I’ve been in this league for a long time.”

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