Hawks try to pull off balancing act heading to playoffs
ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Hawks are trying to play a game that has worked so well for San Antonio: rest up, get healthy and be at their best for the playoffs.
There's a potential down side, however.
If the top-seeded Hawks squander all the momentum they had during much of their stunning regular season, it could be heard to turn it back on for the postseason.
Which is why these next two weeks are still important, even if Atlanta isn't really playing for anything tangible.
''We have to get our mojo back,'' forward DeMarre Carroll conceded. ''We're not taking any games for granted. Each time we step on the floor, we're just trying to keep jelling and keep our rhythm.''
Atlanta (56-19) is not exactly on a roll with the regular season winding down. The Hawks have lost seven of their last 14, including a three-game skid that is their longest of the year.
Some of that is to be expected, considering coach Mike Budenholzer's decision to give his top players plenty of time off. Last Saturday at Charlotte, the Hawks sat out their entire starting lineup and, not surprisingly, lost by 15 points.
The coach went with a different philosophy in Atlanta's most recent game at Detroit, using a strict platoon system in which he let the starters go the first 11 or 12 minutes of each half, then went with the second team the rest of the way. The Hawks lost to the lowly Pistons 105-95.
Budenholzer, in his second year as the Hawks coach, was a long-time assistant with the Spurs under Gregg Popovich, a master at the delicate balancing act of making sure his team was both rested and playing well heading to the playoffs. Five NBA championships are compelling proof that his methods work.
''We're hopeful that we can make it a positive,'' Budenholzer said. ''But we want to be playing good ball going into the playoffs. Sometimes, other teams may be in a situation where they're pushed a little harder. So we need to find a way to push ourselves.''
The Hawks have no more meaningful games in the regular season, already clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference and their first division title since 1994. They have little chance of catching Golden State (61-13) for the top overall seed, which would only be important if the teams met in the NBA Finals.
Rest assured, the Hawks aren't concerned about having a home-court edge in the championship series, considering this is a franchise that has never advanced past the second round of the playoffs since moving to Atlanta in 1968.
But the contrast between the league's two top teams is worth noting.
Golden State took a 10-game winning streak into its game Thursday night against Phoenix, clearly playing at a higher level than the Hawks in the waning days of the regular season.
Even with the focus on staying healthy, Atlanta has sustained a nagging rash of injuries down the stretch.
Kyle Korver missed three games with a broken nose and is still wearing a mask that has admittedly affected his shooting. He hopes to be cleared to play without the protective gear by the playoffs.
Also, two key members of the bench, forward Mike Scott and point guard Dennis Schroder, both went down with toe injuries. Scott's condition wasn't as serious as initially feared and he should return for the playoffs, but the Hawks aren't sure how long it will take him to get back in sync after missing the last 10 games. Schroder was hurt Monday night and, while X-rays were negative, the team hasn't said how long he'll be out.
Budenholzer, whose team's success is based largely on balance and depth, said the Hawks will be counting on everyone in the playoffs.
''We need to find a way to keep our own edge, our own focus,'' the coach said. ''If we can do that and stay healthy, it's going to be a great couple of weeks.''
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