Posts Tagged ‘Paul Millsap’

Kyle Korver to miss remainder of playoffs



VIDEO: Korver injures ankle in Game 2

HANG TIME BIG CITY – When it rains, it pours.

The Atlanta Hawks today announced that guard Kyle Korver will miss the remainder of the postseason after suffering a severe high right ankle sprain during Atlanta’s Game 2 loss to Cleveland last night during the Eastern Conference finals.

Per the Hawks …

“Hawks guard/forward Kyle Korver suffered a right ankle injury with 1:01 remaining in the third quarter of last night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. X-rays performed at Philips Arena last night were negative. A follow-up MRI and examination this morning at the Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic confirmed a severe high right ankle sprain. Korver will see a foot and ankle specialist to determine the best course of treatment. He is out for the remainder of the postseason.”

At 34 years old, the sharp-shooting Korver had the best regular season of his NBA career, making his first All-Star team and leading the NBA in 3-point percentage at 49 percent. He finished the regular season averaging 12.1 ppg while playing in 75 games.

Yet for the Hawks, it’s another hit in a series of body blows that has left them a husk of the team that finished the regular season with 60 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Korver completes something of a brutal cycle, becoming the fifth Hawks starter to deal with injuries this postseason. After losing reserve swingman Thabo Sefolosha for the season after an ankle injury sustained in an off the court incident, the Hawks have had injuries to starters Al Horford (finger), Paul Millsap (shoulder), Jeff Teague (ankle) and DeMarre Carroll (knee). Horford seemed to suffer a knee injury during Game 2, but was able to return and play.

All the injuries are ironic because of the franchise-wide focus all season long on watching minutes played in an effort to avoid injuries and keep players healthy for a postseason run. While Korver has struggled in the postseason thus far, averaging 11 ppg on just 35.5 percent from the three, the threat of Korver on the floor requires defenders to take notice and creates space for the other Hawks – well, at least what’s left of them – to operate.

Without Korver, the Hawks will be forced to rely even heavier on a bench already stretched razor-thin thanks to the other injuries. Down 0-2 to the Cavaliers, with the series shifting to Cleveland for Game 3 on Sunday, the odds are stacked higher than ever against the Hawks.

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.”

Numbers preview: Hawks-Cavaliers


VIDEO: All-access: The top-seeded Hawks and Warriors advance

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Though they both looked vulnerable at times, the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers took care of business to give us the conference finals matchup we’ve been anticipating since the Hawks went on a 33-2 run after Thanksgiving.

This series is a contrast of styles. The Cavs are a team that relies heavily on LeBron James, especially with Kevin Love out for the postseason and Kyrie Irving dealing with leg injuries. The Hawks, meanwhile, like to share the wealth.

While James has been to the conference finals seven times in his 12-year career, this is the first trip there for the Hawks since 1970. Kyle Korver (in 2011 with Chicago) and Paul Millsap (in 2007 with Utah) are their only rotation players who have been here before.

But the Hawks have the knowledge that they tore up what had been an improved Cleveland defense in the final regular-season meeting between the two teams. In the regular season, only one team — New Orleans — scored more efficiently against the Cavs than Atlanta did.

The Cavs scored pretty efficiently against the Hawks too. And the conference finals promises to bring new wrinkles to this matchup. James faced the San Antonio Spurs in the last two Finals. To get there again, he’ll have to get through the Spurs of the East.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Eastern Conference finals, 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.
Beat Washington in six games.
Pace: 96.8 (6)
OffRtg: 102.0 (9)
DefRtg: 98.2 (2)
NetRtg: +3.9 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Hawks playoff notes:

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Beat Boston in four games.
Beat Chicago in six games.
Pace: 92.9 (16)
OffRtg: 108.2 (1)
DefRtg: 98.8 (4)
NetRtg: +9.5 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs playoff notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Pace: 95.4
ATL OffRtg: 114.2 (2nd vs. CLE)
CLE OffRtg: 110.8 (4th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

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!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s a holiday.

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?

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’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

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.”

Morning shootaround — April 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin, Clippers regret late-game flubs | Pelicans’ Davis turns to Cole | Defense lifts Hawks to 2-0 series lead | Pierce helping Wizards’ youngsters

No. 1: Clippers know they left a win on the table — All the Los Angeles Clippers had to do in the final seconds Wednesday night to claim a 2-0 series lead against the San Antonio Spurs was not turn the ball over. Yet, they did exactly that — and it was Los Angeles’ hero of the night, Blake Griffin, who committed the costly error. Griffin’s turnover wasn’t the only flub that cost L.A. a key playoff win, but it’s one that he will remember for a long time. The Los Angeles TimesBen Bolch has more:

Blake Griffin leaned back as he sat on the court, covered his face with his hands and looked toward the rafters.

It was a moment of exasperation the Clippers star is not likely to forget any time soon.

Griffin lost the ball following a pair of between-the-leg dribbles with his team holding a two-point lead late in regulation Wednesday night, one of a handful of missed opportunities during a momentum-shifting 111-107 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series at Staples Center.

Griffin finished with a triple-double but would surely give away all the dunks and points for a chance to do over the play with 11.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter that helped the Spurs deadlock the series at one game apiece.

Game 3 will be Friday in San Antonio.

“That game’s pretty much 100% on me,” said Griffin, who finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in addition to five turnovers. “I got the ball up two, I needed to take care of it and get a good shot or get fouled and I turned it over. That’s what’s on my mind.”

Griffin certainly wasn’t the only Clippers culprit. DeAndre Jordan made six of 17 free throws and Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford combined to make two of 13 three-pointers, but Griffin’s play will be the one that probably will haunt the Clippers most.

“We’ve got to finish,” said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who missed a 19-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds left in regulation that could have put his team ahead. “We’ve been talking about it all season long. We had an opportunity to win a game, go up 2-0 and we didn’t take full advantage of it.”

The Clippers appeared as if they might have secured the victory when Matt Barnes then stole a pass from the Spurs’ Marco Belinelli, but Griffin lost the handle on the ball while dribbling and Paul was forced to foul Patty Mills on a fastbreak, his free throws forcing the overtime.

“It was a switch and we had been running that play all game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “We got [Griffin] to the elbow and they made a good play. The guy [Boris Diaw] popped it loose and they went down and made two free throws, so give them credit.”

“It’s tough, but we have to get past it,” Paul said. “We can’t go back there and play it over again. It’s 1-1 and we know we have to go win a game there.”


VIDEO: Wild sequence marks end of regulation in Game 2 of Clippers-Spurs

*** (more…)

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.”

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.”