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.

Kyrie Irving sticks water-bottle challenge before Cavaliers-Knicks buzzer (video)

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The Cavaliers were trying the water-bottle challenge on the bench late in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but the national telecast showed Cleveland players only failing to flip a water bottle and have it land upright on the floor – including an erratic attempt from LeBron James that bounced onto the court.

Thankfully, the local post-game show had an angle of Kyrie Irving nailing the bottle flip just before the game ended, his toss just leaving his hands before the final buzzer. Count it!

Nicolas Batum zips pass between Tobias Harris’ legs to assist Frank Kaminsky (video)

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Listen up, defenses: Nicolas Batum will throw passes between your legs.

Three things we learned Wednesday: Warriors, Cavaliers try to make statements in December

Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney, left, and Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford reach for a rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Warriors won 115-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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ESPN thought they had a great double header on Wednesday, but those games were decided by a combined 49 points, you should have flipped over to Hairspray Live. Anyway, here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) You can’t have a statement game in December. But if you could Cleveland, Golden State made them. Can we just skip ahead to Christmas when these two teams finally play each other? Plus by then my shopping will be done, and I’m dreading doing it. We’ve said before the Cavaliers and Warriors have established themselves as the best in their conferences and they made that point with authority on Wednesday.

Cleveland did it thrashing the Knicks 126-94. To be fair, the Knicks were on the second night of a back-to-back and were without Derrick Rose. But that is a small part of the disparity here. First, Phil Jackson may want to not try to piss off the best player on the planet. Just a suggestion. Beyond that, the Knicks have had a good season (12-10), but they match up poorly with Cleveland. They don’t have a good defender for Kyrie Irving. Nobody has a good one for LeBron (well, maybe the Spurs). Kristaps Porzingis struggles to defend in space, and Kevin Love can exploit that. I can go on, but you get the picture. Between beating Toronto Monday and this, the Cavs are back to exploiting their advantages out East.

Golden State made its statement by blowing out a Clippers team that had been the second-best team in the West to this point. The Warriors did it with defense first — Los Angeles shot 39.6 percent as a team. Stephen Curry did a respectable job on Chris Paul (15 points on 14 shots), Klay Thompson blanketed J.J. Redick (just four shots), and Draymond was built to guard Blake Griffin (12 points on 20 shots, with seven turnovers). The Warriors anticipated the Clippers skip passes and turned those into transition chances (Golden State won the fast break points battle 27-11). The Warriors didn’t even have a great night on offense — Curry was 0-of-8 from three — and won 115-98 (and it wasn’t that close). Still, the Warriors ball movement was there.

Marreese Speights is in a unique position — the Clippers backup big was with the Warriors the past few seasons, and he was honest and harsh in his assessment of the differences between these teams.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo got a triple-double on an off night. He’s that good. Portland is not a good defensive team. Improved with Al-Farouq Aminu healthy and back on the court, but still not good. However, their defensive strategy of having their bigs play back and not press high off picks works against Giannis Antetokounmpo because you want to make him a jump shooter anyway — and the Greek Freak was notably frustrated at times Wednesday night.

And he still had a triple double of 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. He’s playing that well. Look at it this way, in a Westbrook/Harden world Antetokounmpo is the only NBA player averaging more than 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals a game this season.

The real story for the Bucks was the 27 from Jabari Parker, that’s the reason Milwaukee beat Portland 115-107.

3) Kemba Walker needs to be an All-Star, he got Hornets a win over Pistons. Charlotte shot 34.1 percent Wednesday night, no way they should get a win in that situation. But alas, there was Kemba Walker, who had 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter sparking a Charlotte win, 87-77. Walker is averaging 23.6 shots per game, is shooting a career-best 41.4 percent from three, has a true shooting percentage of 58.2 percent (well above the league average), and is the everything for the Hornet’s offense.

The man deserves to be playing in New Orleans in the All-Star Game this year. I know the East is loaded with quality point guards — Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall — but Kemba has earned the recognition this year.

Warriors rout Clippers 115-98 for 7th straight win over LA

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, left, tries to go up for a shot as Los Angeles Clippers guard Alan Anderson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Warriors won 115-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Klay Thompson scored 24 points, Draymond Green added 22 points and the Golden State Warriors routed the Clippers 115-98 on Wednesday night for their seventh straight win over Los Angeles.

Stephen Curry had 19 points for Golden State, and Kevin Durant, who came averaging a team-best 27.0 points, was held to 16 on 5-of-17 shooting.

Curry failed to make a 3-pointer for just the second time this season, going 0 of 8. The Warriors were 7 of 30 from long range.

Jamal Crawford scored 21 points for the Clippers, who have lost five of seven. Four of their seven overall losses have come at home.