Five observations from the Hawks’ 103-76 victory over the Hornets Tuesday that clinched the No. 5 playoff seed.
1. When the Hawks move the ball, good things happen. Good things like wins over the Celtics, Cavaliers (twice) and now the Hornets. The Hawks had 30 assists on 41 field goals against the Hornets. They had at least 30 assists in each of the past three games.
So the Hawks went from a team struggling to make the playoffs to a team on a roll entering the postseason. In little more than a week.
“I think it’s obvious,” Paul Millsap said. “The ball movement is a lot better. We’ve had our difficulties scoring the basketball all year but I think these last few games putting up 100-plus (points), that’s due to ball movement and guys being unselfish.
“You want to be hot and playing well going into the playoffs. It’s good that we have all our guys playing pretty good right now. The starters. The bench. The bench is really playing good. You have to have everybody playing good going into it.”
2. The Hawks took control early with a 38-point first quarter and a 12-point lead. The cushion enabled the Hawks to limit player minutes while keeping the offensive and defensive flow.
“When you start out with 38 points in the first quarter, the rhythm, people making shots, people sharing it,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “When you come out and put out a good first quarter, it does a lot for your team. It does a lot for your confidence. It gave us a cushion. Then going into halftime up 19. Then if you can just keep your focus, keeping playing, keep your competitive edge.”
Every starter played between 22 and 26 minutes. Every reserve played between nine and 18 minutes.
Dwight Howard scored 10 of the Hawks’ first 12 points of the game and six of the first eight points of the second half.
Locking up the playoff position was important. The Hawks could rest players in the regular-season finale at the Pacers – although no one was saying what the plan may be.
3. The Hawks are settling into their roles with a fully healthy roster for the first time in several weeks. That includes Kent Bazemore coming off the bench. It appears Tim Hardaway Jr. will remain in the starting lineup even after Bazemore came back after missing five games with a right knee injury.
And Bazemore is just fine with it. The Hawks are winning.
“This is much bigger than me,” Bazemore said. “It’s all about production. It’s obvious Tim Hardaway is having an amazing year. I’m happy for him. I’m doing whatever coach needs me to do. We are winning. Coming off the bench is fine with me. That shouldn’t surprise any of you. I’m a very unselfish player. It’s always about the team first. I’m happy with it, coming off the bench and playing with (Mike) Dunleavy, Jose (Calderon), Malcolm (Delaney). It’s fun.”
Bazemore said he has not spoken to Budenholzer about the current rotation.
“I don’t ask questions,” Bazemore said. “I just show up and do what I’m told. It’s an advantage that works in our favor. Playing against second unit guys is a little bit easier out there. It’s good for me right now.”
4. The Hawks are fully healthy because Thabo Sefolosha returned after missing eight games with a right groin strain. Sefolosha came off the bench and played 16 minutes. The starting small forward was eager to play before the end of the regular season.
“I felt pretty good,” Sefolosha said. “It’s right on time. I feel good and my body is ready to go. I just needed a little more time, I guess, to get back in a rhythm but I feel great.”
Sefolosha said he hopes to play Wednesday even though it’s the second of back-to-back games.
5. The Hawks are a much different team of late. Winning takes care of that. The mood in the locker room is that of a team on a roll.
“We have to be honest,” Jose Calderon said. “A week ago we weren’t thinking this way. But we got three of our main guys out. It’s not an excuse but it’s tougher. We had guys that maybe don’t play that many minutes have to be ready. I think it helped us as a team. I think all those guys got a lot of confidence. They are playing great now. We have a deeper team. Anybody who is out there is doing the right thing. That’s basketball. That’s playing together.”
And so the Wizards are the playoff opponent. The Hawks lost three of the four meeting between the teams this season. However, one came late last month with the Hawks missing three starters.
“I think we can beat anybody that comes our way,” Dennis Schroder said. “We just have to play the way we play. Then we are going to be in a good spot. … We still have to get better but we are headed in the right direction.”