The Atlanta Hawks have lost five of their past eight games, some by design — as in Charlotte on Saturday, when all the starters sat — and some half by design. (In Auburn Hills last night, Mike Budenholzer emulated John Calipari and went to a two-platoon system.) In and of itself, losing for a team with such a wide lead is no big deal: The Hawks have clinched their division and the East’s No. 1 seed, so what else is there?
Well, there’s health.
The reason for resting guys, as Budenholzer has been doing in spots for a while, is to keep guys fresh for the playoffs. (This is how things were done at San Antonio, and the Spurs have five NBA titles since 1999 to show for their methodology.) That’s the right move. Alas, reality can intervene.
Mike Scott hurt his toe. Kyle Korver had his nose broken. On Monday, Dennis Schroder hurt his toe. Better now than in May, yes, but better it not happen at all. Trouble is, there’s no way to play basketball without risking some misstep. (Even if you sat out the final month, you could trip over someone in practice.)
That the Hawks aren’t going to win 65 regular-season games — they’d need to sweep the final nine, which there’s no reason to do — isn’t a disqualifier. The Spurs never won more more than 62 in any of their championship seasons. T The health of Scott and Schroder is a concern. (The Hawks were cheered when it turned out Scott’s toe wasn’t broken, just sprained; Scroder’s toe isn’t broken, either.)
The Hawks went 17-0 in January and saw their five starters honored as player(s) of the month, but in several big games the difference-makers were those two subs. Both are second-unit catalysts, and both are hard to guard. They’ll be needed soon.
Then again, the first round shouldn’t be an issue. The Hawks figure to play Miami, Brooklyn, Boston or Indiana. They’re 11-1 against those four, the loss coming against the Celtics on Evan Turner’s last-second shot in the final game before the All-Star break. Round 2 will be when things get interesting.