ATLANTA Nine days and four games remain in the NBA's regular season for the Hawks, who, having already clinched a playoff spot for the sixth consecutive season, are set in a state of limbo.
They don't know their playoff opponent for the first round, although it would be the No. 3 Pacers, at this moment. Atlanta leads seventh-place Boston by 1 12 games and trails fifth-place Chicago by one game ( two in the loss column).
It's almost mathematically impossible for Atlanta to catch fourth-place Brooklyn, which owns a three-game lead over the Hawks.
Also, from their perspective, wins and losses don't mean as much as resting key players for the playoffs. Starting point Jeff Teague addressed the situation after practice on Monday.
"I think it's always fun for some of the guys who haven't been to the playoffs, we're just trying to tell them these last couple of games we just really need to focus," he said. "Get your focus right. It's not about the wins and losses. We're locked into the playoffs. You just worry about playing with a sense of urgency and get your focus right.
"Thats what we're trying to do."
Because of the Hawks' injury situation, coach Larry Drew rested two starting big men Saturday in San Antonio, Josh Smith and Al Horford the Hawks' leading scorers and rebounders.
Smith did not practice on Monday after the team had an off day Sunday.For his part, Horford did practice and he talked about the need for the Hawks to have a good week. They're the midst of a three-game losing streak.
"We want to go in feeling confident," Horford said of the playoffs. "That's the most important thing. Right now, we're going through something of a slump and I think we just need to kind of get it together before the playoffs start and we have time."
Asked if he were expecting his injured players to suit up on Wednesday in Philadelphia, Drew said it was more of a situation of hoping.
"But if it's not (the case), we just have to go with what we have," Drew said, not sounding like a man who was too upset about that state of affairs, especially with rookies John Jenkins and Mike Scott coming off strong performances in the 99-97 loss to the Spurs. Both came off the bench and Jenkins posted a team-high 23 points, while Scott added 22.
The totals represented career highs for both players.
So Drew does not sound like it's making him sweat to have to rest his top players.
"Guys who are banged up, we'll continue to monitor them and look at our schedule," he said. "It really helped, having days in between like this last stretch. We played Saturday and then were able to take yesterday off, come in and have a good practice today, nothing from a contact standpoint, but as we wind down these last four having some games that are spaced out a little bit, it helps us because we need it."
Looking at the schedule, the Hawks have three days off between games this week. After a game on Friday against Milwaukee, Atlanta has four days off before playing two final games on April 16 and 17.
"We need some guys to recuperate from a long season and some of the nagging injuries they have and, as I mentioned, our focus is to try to get these guys as healthy as they possibly can," he said.