Budenholzer’s stretch-run message: Have fun

Mike Budenholzer had a reminder for his team as it entered the final two weeks of the regular season. With a playoff berth hanging in the balance, the coach delivered a simple message: Have fun.

“Just enjoy it,” Jeff Teague said of Budenholzer’s message. “Have fun. It’s a fun moment. You are in a playoff race. It’s fun. There is a lot of opportunity for everyone. (Before the 76ers game), I don’t think we were having a lot of fun. He told us to go out and enjoy it.”

The message was delivered before Monday’s game against the 76ers. The Hawks are 1-1 since and headed into Friday’s game against the Cavaliers in a virtual tie with the Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs were two games back.

“Coach wanted us to have fun out there, play loose,” veteran Elton Brand said. “Play the right way, but just have fun out there. We had a few win streaks when we were sharing the ball, smiling, feeling good about ourselves and not having the pressure of ‘Are we going to make the playoffs?’ or ‘Every shot is the end of the world.’ You don’t have to have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Go out there and have fun and we should be fine.”

Budenholzer said there is a difference in the Hawks when they adhere to the team concept of playing an active-and-help defense with a high-paced offense that shares the ball. He wanted to see more of that team.

“Go out there and enjoy the moment,” Kyle Korver said of the message. “These are big games. They are fun games. It’s why we play basketball. It’s good when there is a little bit of unknown and pressure on you. It’s a good thing. … It brings out the best in you.”

Brand's future: Brand is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, when the one-year, $4 million contract expires that he signed last summer. The 14-year veteran has been a solid addition to the team, especially one that suffered through two season-ending injuries at the center position. He has averaged 5.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 18.8 minutes per game.

When asked Friday whether he had made a decision about playing another season, Brand said, “Not yet.”

Budenholzer said he has not had a conversation with Brand about playing another season.

“We are focused on right now,” Budenholzer said. “But I think he knows how we feel about him and how important he’s been to us and to me personally. I’m sure we’ll have all those conversations at the appropriate time.”