The losses ended the Hawks’ hopes of landing the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Atlanta has the No. 6 seed and will face No. 3 Indiana the first round. The series opens Sunday at Indiana.
Drew said after a light practice Thursday that he still believes it was more important that his players are rested and healthy for the seven-game series than to try for the No. 5 seed and a first-round date with the Brooklyn Nets.
“We had no real preference where we wanted to end up,” Drew said. “Going into postseason play, we wanted to try to get some healthy bodies and that’s what we were focusing on. I’ll live with the decision in that regard.”
The Hawks held out Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Devin Harris and Kyle Korver in Wednesday’s 98-92 loss at New York. Horford, who had some lingering pain in his left pectoral muscle that was surgically repaired last season, also missed Tuesday night’s 113-96 loss to Toronto. Smith sat out the second half.
Horford participated in Thursday’s practice and is expected to start Sunday.
Drew said he had to alter plans for a more rigorous practice Thursday after a late flight back to Atlanta on Wednesday night. The flight from New York was delayed, and most players arrived home about 5 a.m. Thursday.
Even so, Smith and Teague said the practice was upbeat.
“I think it was a lot more serious in practice today,” Teague said. “You could see the intensity on the faces of the guys. Everybody is so focused and locked in. We’re just trying to get ready. We really want to win. We have a great opportunity.”
According to Las Vegas-based Pregame.com, the odds against the Hawks winning the NBA title are 250-to-1. Only Milwaukee, at 500-to-1, is a bigger underdog to win it all.
Smith said the Hawks’ strategy should be to ignore those who say they can’t win.
“We’re going to leave that for everybody else to read,” Smith said. “We’re a confident bunch and we’re very unselfish. We split the series with this team in the regular season, so we’re as confident as a basketball team as they are. It should be a good series.”
The Hawks are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season. They lost to the Celtics in the first round last year after advancing to the conference semifinals three straight years.
The Hawks added two veteran guards before the season, DeShawn Stevenson and Devin Harris, with extensive playoff experience. Stevenson played on the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 championship team.
“We have guys who have been in a lot of playoff situations,” Smith said. “We have one that has won a championship. We have a lot of playoff minutes on this basketball team.”
The Hawks lost guard Lou Williams and center Zaza Pachulia to injuries during the season. Those injuries cut into Drew’s depth and made it more important his active players are healthy.
“We were talking about Zaza the other day as a staff, how important he would be in a series like this,” Drew said. “His style of play is real important in the playoffs, where they do allow you to play a little more physical. We’re certainly going to miss Zaza but we have some guys to step up.”