There is a sense of uneasiness as Mike Budenholzer stands before another media horde.
The Hawks coach has been swarmed by an increasing number of reporters, at home and on the road, as his team continues a remarkable run of success. The Eastern Conference leaders are the surprise of the NBA with a 31-8 record. They have won 10 straight and 24 out of 26 games.
Yeah, that will draw a crowd.
Budenholzer was surrounded by more inquirers before and after games in Philadelphia and Boston this week. They all wanted to know the answer to the same question. How are the Hawks this good?
Budenholzer relies on his standard talking points. The Hawks are playing well defensively. Their activity has fueled an offense predicated on pace and space. They have good players. And, of course, there is always room for improvement.
“We are more focused on working every day,” Budenholzer said Wednesday when asked if all the recent attention was a good thing for an understated team with an understated coach. “All the other stuff is probably not in our nature, not in our character, for sure not in mine. Hopefully, we can continue to work and get better. That is more important than anything anyone is thinking or saying. All that stuff is, hopefully, not for us.”
The Hawks not only lead the Eastern Conference but have the second-best record in the NBA. Only the Warriors (31-5) have a better record. The Hawks are one of three teams in the league with single-digit losses.
So, there is plenty of attention on the Hawks. They have caught the interest and praise of national media. Some analysts have gone as far as to say the Hawks will come out of the East. Opposing coaches appreciate what is being built in Atlanta.
“They play the game with a great teamness about them,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “It seems to me they are an unselfish group when you watch them on film. They just play the right way. Defensively they are very connected. They play very hard. The numbers bear that out. Offensively, I think they are one of the elite in the league just because of the way the spread the floor, have multiple skilled bigs … and then you have two guards who can get wherever they want with the ball.”
The Hawks lead the East by four games over the Wizards, by 4-1/2 games over the Raptors, Friday’s opponent, and by 5-1/2 over the Bulls, Saturday’s opponent as they conclude a trip of four games in five nights. The Raptors have handed the Hawks two of their eight losses – or 25 percent of the defeats. They won a 109-102 decision in Toronto on opening night. They also came to Atlanta and recorded a 126-115 win on Nov. 26. At that point, the Hawks stood at 7-6. They appeared to be a middle-of-the-pack team still with favorable playoff chances in the East.
Following the second loss to the Raptors, the Hawks reeled off night straight wins. A loss at the Magic, on a buzzer-beater on the second of back-to-back games, was followed by a five-game win streak. That run ended with a blowout home loss to the Bucks on Dec. 26, which the Hawks avenged the following night. They haven’t lost since. The current win streak of 10 games is the longest since the team started the 1997-98 season with 11 straight victories.
The last two wins, over the Sixers and Celtics, came as the Hawks rested three and then two starters. Even that didn’t ease Budenholzer’s uncomfortableness with the limelight.
“We are happy to continue to grow and develop,” said Budenholzer, turning to an old standby.
And so the winning and attention continue.
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