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After strange season, Hawks hope they’ve figured things out

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ATLANTA (AP) — Maybe the Atlanta Hawks finally figured things out.

If so, their timing is impeccable.

After a regular season marked largely by perplexing inconsistency, the Hawks turned in some of their best performances over the final week.

Two victories against defending NBA champion Cleveland, including a 26-point comeback. Another win against the Boston Celtics, the top-seeded team in the East.

Now, heading into an opening-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards, the Hawks are overflowing with confidence.

“I think we’re playing probably as good or better than we have all year, especially offensively,” coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday. “That’s what you want to be doing going into the playoffs. I think the team’s in a good mindset, a good place.”

Make no mistake this season was a disappointment for the Hawks, who just two years had a franchise-record 60 wins and were the top seed in the East. Last season, they slipped to 48-34 and underwent a major shake-up that included the signing of polarizing center Dwight Howard and the promotion of Dennis Schroder to starting point guard.

Instead of improving, Atlanta dropped even farther (43-39) and was actually in danger of missing the playoffs before the final-week surge.

Even though the Hawks will be making their 10th straight postseason appearance, the team has generated little buzz around the NBA or even in its own city, where home games continue to be marked by thousands of empty seats and most sports fans seem more focused on the start of baseball season, the NFL draft and a promising new soccer team, Atlanta United.

Howard shrugged off the lack of support.

“Keep `they’ outcha life,” he said. “All the people who don’t believe in us, that’s `they.’ You’ve got to keep `they’ outcha life. It doesn’t matter what `they ` want. It matters what we want.”

Atlanta’s offensive improvement has coincided with a reduction in Howard’s minutes late in the season, and Budenholzer seems intent on sticking with an extended rotation during the playoffs. He praised the play of the bench, which includes former starter Kent Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala, Mike Dunleavy and Jose Calderon.

“We have a deep bench and I think we’re going to try to use as much of it as we can,” Budenholzer said. “We’re in a little bit of a unique position where, at least going into Game 1, the plan is to keep a deep rotation and play a lot of guys and continue to massage that. If we need to adjust in a game, we will.”

Off the court, All-Star forward Paul Millsap shook things up by dressing down the team when things looked especially bleak – a change of pace for the normally soft-spoken player. He demanded better ball movement. He urged the bench players to get into the game. He wanted to see teammates high-fiving each other and playing with enthusiasm.

“Just the little things,” Millsap said. “We’re trying to get back to that, which makes a really good basketball team. Down the stretch, I wanted to emphasize that. These last few days, you’ve seen a completely different group.”

The Hawks will continue to go with a starting lineup that includes Tim Hardaway Jr. and rookie forward Taurean Prince. That leaves Bazemore coming off the bench, an unusual role for someone who’s in the first year of a $70 million contract.

He isn’t complaining, saying this is “the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

Indeed, after battling injuries late in the year, Atlanta has everyone ready to go against the Wizards, who won the season series 3-1.

Game 1 is Sunday in Washington.

“I think we’ve got a helluva team,” Schroder said. “Everybody’s back now. We showed what we can do and who we can beat. We’ve just got to keep competing and doing the same things.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 .

One reason Markelle Fultz happy to be Sixers over Celtic? Philadelphia has Chick-fil-As

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For about a month, from the day of the NBA Draft Lottery until less than a week before the draft, it was assumed Markelle Fultz would be a Celtic. And he said he was good with that — he’s the No. 1 pick going to a 53-win team that is thinking title contention. That doesn’t happen often.

Then that top pick was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, and suddenly Fultz was going to be paired with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Fultz liked that a lot, and he liked the city a lot.

Why? Because they have Chick-fil-A restaurants. Check out what Fultz wrote in the The Players’ Tribune, an article titled “What’s Up, Philly.” (Hat tip Inceptions at NBA Reddit)

Then (Fultz’s agent) Keith hit me up and said, “New plan. Philly.”

I was just waking up. So I was like, “O.K., cool. Do they have Chick-fil-A there?”

A crispy chicken sandwich for breakfast. It’s kind of like my good luck charm. Keith never got back to me about that important question. So I found out for myself. I googled it immediately.

Philly does have Chick-fil-A. It has six, actually. Seven if you count the one at the airport. Boston has zero Chick-fil-As, for what it’s worth.

Are restaurants becoming a new recruiting tool? “I know you’re thinking of signing in San Antonio, but we have far more Chipotle’s per capita.” “There’s a Cheesecake Factory just down the street from our practice facility.”

I give it four years, max, before Fultz switches to a slightly healthier breakfast choice, at the requestion of Philly’s training staff.

Warriors newbie Jordan Bell gets call from Draymond Green

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Jordan Bell knows he will most certainly get an earful from Draymond Green come training camp as a Golden State Warriors rookie.

Green came looking for him on draft night with a FaceTime attempt after acquiring his new teammate’s digits from general manager Bob Myers. But Bell – out with friends celebrating – didn’t answer because the number was unfamiliar.

Bell decided he would text back instead.

“I was like, `Who is this?”‘ Bell recalled Friday, when he was formally introduced and given his new No. 2 Golden State jersey at team headquarters.

“He didn’t reply so I called the number and said, `Who is this?’ Then he was like, `Yo, I FaceTimed you, hang up right now and FaceTime me right back, don’t call me,”‘ Bell said. “I FaceTimed him and he didn’t answer. I was like, all right. I waited like five seconds and I called him back FaceTime and he answered … and we started talking about it. He was like, `Enjoy this night, celebrate, it only happens once, but after this time we have to get back to work, we’re trying to get rings over here.”‘

The NBA champions began the night Thursday without a draft pick but acquired Bell in a trade with the Bulls. The 6-foot-9 forward and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year out of Oregon was the 38th overall selection by Chicago.

Bell had been upset he dropped so far in the draft, then everything changed once the Warriors made a move for him. Green was drafted 35th overall out of Michigan State in 2012 and still has a chip on his shoulder about it. In fact, he can name every team in order and its selection above him that draft year.

“Draymond will be a fun challenge for you,” Myers said. “Draymond texted me as I was driving home and he said, `What the’ and then expletive `is your problem’ to me? So you can fill in the blank. Then he said, `I have to hear about this’ expletive `on the internet, you didn’t’ expletive `tell me about it.’ So I couldn’t text and drive so I called him and I said, `OK, all right, calm down.”‘

Green demanded he be able to talk to Bell, so Myers obliged with the new rookie’s contact info.

Green’s teammates are accustomed to his intensity. He even yells at them from time to time.

“He’s like our team mom in a way,” joked Myers. “He’s the one that you have to kind of get through him.”

 

Rumor: Cavaliers could wait to chase Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony after buyouts

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The first reaction to hearing Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota on draft night was “the Bulls only got what back?”

The second reaction was “does Dwyane Wade still opt in?”

Yes, he does, and as he said there are 24 million reasons to do so. Hard to argue with that logic. Which leads to the next question: Will the Bulls buy him out? Or, more likely, when will the Bulls buy him out?

Carmelo Anthony could be in the same boat. Phil Jackson wants to trade him but Anthony has a no-trade clause. The number of teams willing to give up anything for ‘Melo where he would waive that clause is very, very limited. You might be able to count them on one finger. And that might be generous. So a buyout could be in order.

Which leads to this interesting note from Brian Windhorst, via Marc Stein, of ESPN.

This makes sense for the Cavaliers. They need roster upgrades and they are capped out. They tried to find a deal to move Kevin Love to get space to chase Jimmy Butler or Paul George, but those three team deals never came together in part because of a lack of trade value for Kevin Love. Adding either or both of these two players to the roster for minimum salaries while giving up nothing is a perfect scenario.

Wade, obviously, has played with LeBron. Even though he is not the player he once was, if his knees are rested he is capable of stretches of fantastic play that can help carry a team. He would be another offensive weapon in a deep arsenal of weapons the Cavaliers have stockpiled.

Anthony would be the same in some ways — he remains a strong scorer in isolation (sets the Cavaliers run more than any other team in the league) and he makes difficult shots. The problem would be elite teams — Golden State, Boston, etc. — could expose his defense against the pick-and-roll. Still, he would be an upgrade if nothing is surrendered for him.

There’s a lot of “what if” still to happen before we get to this. However, the idea of one or both of these guys being in Cavaliers uniforms by the start of next playoffs is not out of the question.

Alec Peters’ tearful reaction to being selected what NBA Draft should be about

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The NBA Draft production in Brooklyn is entertainment. It’s glitz. There’s stage with changing graphics. The NBA Commissioner comes out and announces the picks, then guys who have realized for a while now they would fulfill their dream of playing in the NBA come up on stage in their expensive suits, put on a baseball cap from their new team, shake the Commissioner’s hand, and next get interviewed on national television. It all feels rehearsed and staged, with very little feeling genuine.

I prefer how it went for former Valparaiso star Alec Peters better. He was in his hometown, with family and friends, unsure if his name would be called until just before it happened at spot 54 — and he still didn’t believe it until he heard it.

That is authentic.

The Suns are a good place to land for a young man wanting to develop and prove he belongs in the league. Peters is a 6’9″ power forward who shot 36.9 percent from three. Can he develop into a stretch four/pick-and-pop threat? He’s got a high IQ and will need to prove he can hang with NBA bigs, but he’s going to get his chance.

(Hat tip Ball Don’t Lie)