Hawks keep Hardaway Jr., Prince in starting lineup entering playoffs


It’s the playoffs.

Dwight Howard summed up the NBA postseason succinctly.

“This is money time,” the Hawks center said. “Plain and simple.”

The No. 5-seed Hawks will play the No. 4 Wizards in an Eastern Conference first-round series that begins Sunday afternoon in Washington. They will do so with a starting lineup that was necessitated by injury but prospered at the end of the season with a playoff spot and position on the line.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday that Tim Hardaway Jr. and Taurean Prince will stay in the starting lineup. Hardaway has started the past 12 games, before resting the regular-season finale, after Kent Bazemore shut down for a week with a knee injury. The rookie Prince started the past 10 games after Thabo Sefolosha went down with a groin injury.

The Hawks won four consecutive games against the Celtics, Cavaliers (twice) and Hornets before clinching the No. 5 seed and resting five regulars in a loss to the Pacers to end the season.

“Having them in the starting lineup has been good,” Budenholzer said. “Having Baze off the bench has been good for us too. The bench has been good for us. It’s a good mix of guys that we are going to stick with.”

Sefolosha returned from injury to play the final two games. Budenholzer said the forward is “completely clear, completely healthy,” but he will stay with Prince.

It should be noted that it doesn’t much matter who starts a game, but rather who finishes it. What will be the starting lineup — Dennis Schroder, Paul Millsap, Howard, Hardaway and Prince — have played together about 35 minutes in eight games.

“It’s very exciting,” Hardaway said of his role entering the playoffs. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I know it’s going to be tough battle. We just have to go out there and compete. Everybody has to have each other’s back out there, cover for one another, and go out there and take care of business.”

Several Hawks players said Friday that the past week has been like the postseason with the Hawks in pressure situations to win games down the stretch of the regular season.

“The intensity of the games,” Bazemore said of the recent intensity. “Our opponents, obviously, Cavalier and Celtics. Both playoff atmospheres. All those games down the stretch, especially having seeding issues and having to win games.

The Hawks know their biggest challenge in the series revolves around slowing the Wizards’ backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The duo helped get the best of the Hawks during the regular season in winning three of the four games. Stopping the Wizards’ fast break is No. 1.

“If we can do something to minimize or keep them out of transition that is most important,” Budenholzer said. “Transition is the first thing we talk about the first week of training camp. Transition, if you want to be a good defensive team, is always a priority. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but you have to stay disciplined, stay to your principles and your effort has to be great.”

Millsap called Wall a “one-man fast break.” The Hawks cautioned that slowing the Wizards’ All-Star involve more than Schroder or the others called upon with the defensive assignment.

“John Wall and Bradley Beal have had pretty decent years,” Bazemore said. “They pack a punch. They are the catalyst for their team. How they go, their team goes. Obviously, they are a focal point, but it’s going to take a team of five players on the court at once to get the job done.”

The Hawks may tweak some of the game plan used against the Wizards during the regular season. Better execution will also be a factor. For now, the countdown is on.

“All you’ve got to do is win 16 games,” Howard said. “That’s the goal. Sixteen games. If we do that, we’ll all be happy.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Hawks

Game preview: Pistons at Hawks
Game preview: Pistons at Hawks

Pistons center Andre Drummond had 20 rebounds in a victory against the Hawks last month. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) When/where: 7:30 p.m. today, Philips Arena TV: Fox Sports Southeast Stream: Fox Sports Go Radio: 92.9 The Game Injuries: Hawks—Dewayne Dedmon (leg) and Mike Muscala (ankle) are out; Luke Babbitt (back)...
Hawks wing Prince on NBA Year 2: ‘I’ve got a long way to go’
Hawks wing Prince on NBA Year 2: ‘I’ve got a long way to go’

(AP Photo) Unless the Rockets and Timberwolves collapse this season, the Hawks will have (at least) three first-round picks in the 2018 draft, including what’s likely to be their own selection in the lottery. If LeBron James stays in Cleveland, the Hawks almost certainly will have an extra first-round pick in the 2019...
Ten observations from Hawks loss at Cavs
Ten observations from Hawks loss at Cavs

(AP Photo) CLEVELAND– Ten observations from Cavs 123, Hawks 114.  1. When the Hawks won here earlier this season they did so in large part by playing faster than the Cavaliers from the start, and Cleveland didn’t respond until late. But that was back when Cleveland looked old and slow, and LeBron James didn&rsquo...
Game preview: Hawks at Cavs
Game preview: Hawks at Cavs

(Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)   When/where: 7 p.m. today, Quicken Loans Arena TV: Fox Sports Southeast Stream: Fox Sports Go Radio: 92.9 The Game Injuries: Hawks— John Collins (shoulder), Dewayne Dedmon (leg) and Mike Muscala (ankle) are out; Luke Babbitt (back) is probable. Cavs—Derrick Rose (ankle), Iman Shumpert (knee)...
Hawks assign rookie John Collins to Erie
Hawks assign rookie John Collins to Erie

The Atlanta Hawks announced Tuesday that rookie forward/center John Collins was assigned to the Erie BayHawks, the Hawks’ NBA G League affiliate. Collins will miss his sixth consecutive game with a shoulder injury that he suffered against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 30.  Collins, who was the team’s first-round draft pick this year...
More Stories