There was a playoff atmosphere hours before the Hawks and the Warriors ever took to the court Friday.
With the two best teams in the NBA prepared to meet, no less than 30 media members were in attendance at the morning shootaround. After getting off the bus for the practice and seeing the assembled throng, Warriors guard Stephen Curry quipped, “It must be Game 7.”
“I’m with him on that one,” Hawks guard Jeff Teague said. “It looks like a Game 7.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr met the media on the court and was soon completed surrounded.
“Looks like the Finals,” he said.
The Hawks led the Eastern Conference with a 41-9 record. The Warriors lead the Western Conference with a 39-8 record.
The Warriors enter with one of the most prolific backcourts in the NBA in Curry and Klay Thompson. Each had a 50-point game in the past two weeks. Stopping them will be key for the Hawks. It will mean picking up their defensive assignments as soon as the duo crosses mid-court.
“Our pick up points will definitely be higher than they normally are,” Kyle Korver said. “They put a lot of pressure on you. They’ve got guys who can really shoot. They have a lot of good basketball players. Obviously, Klay and Steph get a lot of attention but they have a really good team.”
In Korver, Curry and Thompson are three of the eight participants in next week’s 3-point Contest at the All-Star Game.
Look for the Hawks to use DeMarre Carroll to guard Thompson.
Under coach Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks like to guard the paint first. It is the priority. That could be a problem against the Warriors.
“Each night different teams have different strengths,” Budenholzer said. “They can score a lot of different ways but obviously the 3-point line is something where they have multiple players who are so efficient and so good. It will be something that we’ll talk about and emphasis. Talk is kind of meaningless. It’s going out and doing it that will be difficult against this group. We’ll see if we can rise to that challenge at the 3-point line.”
In other news:
* Shelvin Mack, who missed the past nine games with a calf strain, will return and be active. Thabo Sefolosha is the only player the Hawks listed as out on the injury report.
* Several Hawks players tried to downplay the significance of the game. However, Paul Millsap knows it’s a chance to see how the Hawks measure up against another elite team.
“As much as I want to say no, it is a measuring stick for us,” Millsap said. “They are at the top of the league, one of the better teams in the league. We’ll measure up and see how we do.”