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.