Mike Budenholzer, Mike Scott, Jeff Teague

Hawks management would like to make the playoffs, but it’s not that big a deal

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Right now, the Knicks are playing with some passion — after stumbling and bumbling (to quote Clyde) through the first three quarters of the season, they have played better and picked up key wins (such as blowing out Brooklyn Wednesday) to battle back into the eighth seed in the playoff chase.

The Atlanta Hawks have lost seven of their last eight games, which is on top of losing 14-of-15 in a streak through most of February and into early March. They are playing like the team everyone expected them to be after losing Al Horford for the season… except they weren’t that team when Horford first went down. Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague helped sparked a team that would not just collapse. But as the injuries continued to pile up so have the losses.

And their management doesn’t really seem to care.

At least that’s how it sounded when GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer spoke about it to the New York Times.

“Candidly, I don’t pay the amount of attention to the standings that you would expect,” (Ferry) said.

Ferry’s admission reflects a viewpoint in the Hawks’ front office that landing the final berth would constitute no grand achievement. The team is a construction site — first-year coach, revamped system, retouched roster with more changes imminent — and expectations were tamped down even before injuries ravaged the squad….

“We’re really just focused on building our habits,” (Budenholzer) said. “I know the standings. There’s not a lot of time and energy I put into it.”

Ferry tried to clarify his statement when he was on SiriusXM NBA Radio with hosts Frank Isola and Sam Mitchell Thursday.

“Yeah, we want to make the playoffs.  We’re frustrated that we’re sitting here in this battle for the 8th seed.  We’ve had a ton of injuries, losing Al Horford early, but really we would have been a higher seed before this had we not had the compounded injuries over the last six to eight weeks where we’ve had five guys out for a good part of it all at once, different guys.  So it’s been a frustrating second half of the year for us.  We felt like there was a real opportunity for us in the East if we could have stayed healthy to be one of those teams with home court advantage and be in the mix.  That hasn’t happened.  That being said, yes, we want to be in the playoffs.  It would be a great experience, especially for our young players, but our group in general, to be in the playoffs.  Obviously, playing a team like Miami if that’s who we’d end up playing is a great challenge but certainly one we would embrace.”

He went on to say even in San Antonio or Cleveland he didn’t check the standings.

You can argue this makes sense — aside a little more cash in the door because of a couple more home games, and a little more experience, what do the Hawks get out of getting swept by the Heat or Pacers in the first round of the playoffs? The focus should be on the long play in Atlanta.

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But part of what Ferry and Budenholzer need to establish in Atlanta is a winning culture, one that fights and scraps for everything. That is part of the process. That’s what they came from in San Antonio (even if Gregg Popovich does it in more low key way), that’s what you see in Chicago. The players execute it but the attitude starts at the top and everyone is on the same page. It’s something fans can get behind.

In the end, the Hawks need a lot more talent to win big in the NBA and Ferry needs to be focused on that as the priority in the big picture. But you want to put that talent on a team that plays with passion.

Like the Knicks are showing right now as they pass the Hawks in the standings.

Kobe Bryant’s 25 points not enough to upset Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs have watched helplessly as Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has tormented them for the better part of the past two decades.

Bryant did so again in his final appearance in San Antonio, but the Spurs were able to enjoy this one.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a throwback performance by Bryant to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 106-102 on Saturday night to remain unbeaten at home.

“I thought it was great,” San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said. “It was a great game, fans were into it. It felt a little bit like the old days in the playoffs, Spurs and the Lakers.”

Kawhi Leonard added 20 points and 13 rebounds to help the Spurs win their 28th straight home game to open the season. The Spurs’ 37th straight home victory dating back to last season was surprisingly difficult.

Bryant had 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter, going 3 for 6 on 3-pointers in guiding the Lakers to an 81-79 lead entering the fourth.

“I watched him growing up,” said Lakers guard and San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson, who finished with 21 points and four assists. “I watched him kill the Spurs.”

San Antonio has trailed for only two minutes in the fourth quarter at home this season, but the Lakers led for all but 23 seconds in the opening seven minutes of the period.

Bryant finished 9 for 28 from the field, but was 7 for 18 in a dynamic second half that electrified a pro-Bryant crowd.

“It’s like watching Michael (Jordan),” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I was just watching. It was great. It was great. We made some mistakes. He took advantage of it. He’s fantastic.”

After rising to drain a 3-pointer with Leonard squarely in his face contesting the attempt, Bryant turned to an injured Tim Duncan on the bench and shrugged his shoulders.

“He was like, `No way,’ and I was like `Dude,’ ” Bryant said. “What could I do? I miss the easy ones and make some B.S. like that. I don’t even know what to tell you. It was Tim’s version of a yell, so it was a strong whisper.”

The Lakers trailed 101-99 lead after trading 3-pointers following Bryant’s improbable shot, but the Spurs’ were able to hold Los Angeles to just three points in the final 2 minutes.

“Missed defensive assignments,” said Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, who had 12 points. “They executed their offense to perfection. We were young and that’s an excuse I could give you.”

Bryant had a sore right shoulder, but he was not about to miss one last game against his fiercest rivals. He has faced the Spurs 90 times in the regular season and postseason, his most against any opponent.

TIP-INS

Lakers: The Spurs honored Bryant with a 3-minute video. The Spurs’ Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all paid tribute to Bryant’s competitiveness along with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Bryant walked over to the Spurs’ bench prior to tipoff and hugged Popovich, sharing a few words with San Antonio’s longtime coach.

Spurs: San Antonio’s 12-game lead in the Southwest is the largest ever since the division was formed in 2004-2005. … In addition to Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs were also without Matt Bonner. The reserve forward suffered a left calf strain Friday against Dallas, which was just his 20th game of the season. … Pop star Selena Gomez sat courtside, wearing a Tony Parker jersey.

 

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.