Hawks head to London to play Nets
ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks’ first regular-season game in London provides first-year coach Mike Budenholzer the opportunity for a midseason review of his team.
Budenholzer, the former longtime Spurs top assistant under Gregg Popovich, said Monday the Hawks have proved to be quick learners in the first half of the season.
“I think it’s gone well,” Budenholzer said. “This is a very, very smart group that understands the game. They’ve really taken a lot of what we’re talked about on the practice court and applied it to the games. ... Overall, I think there’s a mostly positive feeling and a feeling we can get a lot better, also.”
The Hawks (20-18) are third in the Eastern Conference despite losing Josh Smith to free agency and Al Horford to a season-ending injury in December. Horford was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder when he tore his right pectoral muscle on Dec. 26.
The Hawks’ unusual week of travel began with their flight to London on Monday night. Atlanta will play the Brooklyn Nets in London on Thursday.
Budenholzer said he hopes the long trip to London can help build more team unity. He said similar trips to France and Mexico for preseason games with the Spurs were good experiences.
“I think the fact it’s a regular-season game changes the dynamics a little bit, but there’s still a lot of positives for our whole group, spending time together and experiencing another country and another culture,” Budenholzer said. “Spending time together is always important, so I think we’re looking at this as a real positive for us.”
The Hawks have used balanced scoring to remain over .500.
Second-year player Mike Scott, who has averaged 12.8 points in the past six games, is emerging as a consistent scorer off the bench and complement to starter Paul Millsap at the power forward position formerly held by Smith.
“Mike has really been a bright spot for us in his growth and development,” Budenholzer said. “I think it’s a credit to how much work and time he put in this summer. ... His abilities are a good fit for us. His ability to stretch the floor and make 3s and then he plays with a great pace and in transition he gets out and runs and can slam down some dunks.”
Scott has lifted his scoring average from 4.6 to 8.1.
“He’s a great pick-and-pop player,” said 3-point specialist Kyle Korver. “He finishes well. He’s going to be a big part of what we do moving forward.”
On Dec. 6, Korver passed Dana Barros’ NBA record of 89 consecutive games with a 3-pointer. Korver’s record streak is at 107 games, and he is averaging 12.4 points per game — his high mark since the 2006-07 season with Philadelphia.
Millsap, who signed with Atlanta as a free agent following seven seasons in Utah, has made his case for All-Star consideration by averaging 17.4 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Point guard Jeff Teague, averaging a career-best 16.6 points, also has seen his scoring rise under Budenholzer.
The Hawks fell to 6-13 on the road with Sunday’s 108-101 loss at Memphis. The loss followed impressive back-to-back home wins over Indiana and Houston.
“We’re trying to build something here and we all know it’s going to take some time,” Budenholzer said.
“Part of it is the system and part of it is just everything. It takes time to build something that’s really successful and something that’s sustainable and I think we’ve made some good initial steps.”
Pero Antic, who has replaced Horford as the starting center, is making the trip to London after missing the game at Memphis with back spasms.
The Hawks played Orlando in the NBA’s first two preseason games in London in 1993. They played exhibition games in Russia against the Soviet National Team in 1988.