Hawks ready for playoffs with return of Millsap

For a while, it seemed like old times.

You know, as in a month ago.

The Hawks had their starting five together for the first time in almost two weeks when Paul Millsap returned to the lineup for Wednesday’s regular-season finale against the Bulls. The All-Star forward missed five games with a right shoulder injury and wanted a tune-up before the NBA playoffs begin this weekend.

He was the latest regular to miss time as the Hawks rested players and dealt with some injuries after long ago wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will host the Nets at 5:30 p.m. Sunday in Game 1 of their opening-round series.

It didn’t take long for the starting unit to fire on all cylinders. The Hawks went on a 25-4 run in the second and third quarters and built an 18-point lead. They eventually lost a 91-85 decision to the Bulls after shutting down the starting unit and several reserves for the entire fourth quarter. It was another game that meant little after the Hawks clinched the top seed March 27.

“That starting group had a lot of good stretches, three or four good stretches where they played well,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of his decision to sit the regulars for the final 12 minutes. “That’s what was most important for us. It just felt right. They had done a lot of good things. It was an opportunity to play some other people.”

The Hawks have walked the fine line of resting players and keeping the chemistry that made them the dominant team in the conference as they finished with a 60-22 record. The franchise-record win total came even as the Hawks were 7-8 in the final 15 games, including three consecutive losses to end the regular season.

“It’s a well-oiled machine,” Jeff Teague said of the starting unit.

Millsap said his shoulder was sore — and likely will be for a while — following the game. He struggled from the field as he was 2-of-9 from the field for five points in 27 minutes.

“It’s going to get hit,” Millsap said of his shoulder. “It got hit a few times today. A little pain, but it wore off. At this point, I can’t worry about it. I’m out there. What happens, happens.

“For us to get some time together before going into the playoffs, I think that is real crucial. We had some time tonight. We had some good moments.”

Budenholzer was not concerned with Millsap’s offense following the game. Call it rust. The coach pointed to the other things the power forward does that makes the Hawks so effective. Millsap had six rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocked shots.

“It was just great to have him back out there,” Budenholzer said. “He is still feeling his way, is how I would say it. You could see how much better we are with his decision-making, his defense, all the little things he does. And it helps slide other people into roles that makes them better, too. I’m just really happy to get him out there and get him playing.”

The Hawks did not practice Thursday. Next up is the postseason and the Nets, a team the Hawks swept 4-0 this season, including two wins in a five-day span earlier this month. The average margin of victory was 19.8 points. Millsap was injured late in the second quarter of the home game against the Nets on April 4, when he collided with Earl Clark chasing a loose ball. He missed the game in Brooklyn on April 8. He’s back now.

“We just want to be playing at a high level,” Al Horford said. “We want to be playing good basketball. We want our whole team to be playing that way. We went out there and competed (Wednesday). We played hard, and so I’m pleased where we are at as a team.”