In his first season, Mike Budenholzer has led the Atlanta Hawks to a 38-44 record and the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference of the NBA playoffs. (Jeff Hanish/USA TODAY Sports)
Atlanta vs. Indiana
Records, seeding: Indiana is 56-26 and the top-seed in the Eastern Conference; Atlanta is 38-44 and the No. 8 seed
Leaders: Indiana - Paul George (21.7 points per game), Lance Stephenson (7.2 rebounds per game). Atlanta - Al Hortford (18.6 points per game), Paul Millsap (8.5 rebounds per game).
Schedule: Game 1 - Tonight at Indiana, 7 p.m., Game 2 - Tuesday at Indiana, 7 p.m., Game 3 - Thursday at Atlanta, 7 p.m.; Game 4 - April 26 at Atlanta, 2 p.m.; Game 5 * - April 28 at Indiana, 8 p.m.; Game 6* May 1 at Atlanta; Game 7, May 1 at Indiana.
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks face some tough odds as they enter today’s first round of the NBA playoffs.
Not only do the Hawks enters the Eastern Conference playoffs with the worst regular season record of any of the 16 participants, but they are the No. 8 seed.
NBA playoff history hasn’t been too kind to that seed. Rarely does a No. 8 seed knock off a top seed in the first round of the playoffs.
But the Hawks do come into tonight’s 7 p.m. game at the Indiana Pacers on a bit of a roll. Atlanta ended the regular season winning seven of their last 10, but still enters as the only playoff team with an under-.500 mark.
This late-season success has given the team some confidence in taking on the Pacers, who beat out two-time defending champion Miami for the top spot.
“We just wanted to end the season playing good basketball,” Hawks guard Kyle Korver told the Associated Press. “We feel like we are playing about as well as we have played all year for the most part.”
The teams are meeting in the opening round for the second year in a row. Last year, Indiana beat up the Hawks on the way to a 4-2 series victory. Atlanta had success against the Pacers in the regular season, splitting four games this year.
However, Indiana has been a tough team to be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season. The Pacers (56-26) had the best home record (35-6) in the NBA this season.
Since 1984, the top seeds have lost only five of 60 NBA playoff series. However, it has happened twice in the last three years with Philedalphia defeating Chicago in 2012. In 2011, Memphis defeated San Antonio in the opening round as a low seed.
Lately, the Pacers didn’t play well in the down stretch, closing out the regular season by winning only 10 of their last 23 games. Since March 1, Indiana has compiled a 12-13 record, which included a 19-point loss at home against the Hawks 12 days ago.
“We have great respect for how they play,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel told USA Today. “They’ve proven the last weeks they can play at as high of a level most playoff teams.”
Players say that they will be ready now that the playoffs is here.
“We are ready for the playoffs, without question. We are ready to go,” Pacers center Roy Hibbert told Reuters. “This is a smart team that knows what needs to be done. We’ve been there before. It will be a process, a grind, but we’re right where we need to be.”
Pacers guard George Hill agreed.
“We are fine right now,” he said. “It’s a long regular season. We didn’t play our best at the end, but it doesn’t matter now. It’s the first to win 16 games in the playoffs now.”