ATLANTA (AP) — The Hawks keep reaping the rewards for their amazing season.
For the first time since 1980, Atlanta will have three players in the NBA All-Star Game. Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Al Horford are joining their coach, Mike Budenholzer, for the Feb. 15 contest at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In a sense, Thursday’s announcement pf the reserves felt like the Hawks (38-8) got a bit shortchanged, considering they have won 17 in a row, 31 of 33 and lead the Eastern Conference by whopping seven games. Kyle Korver was also mentioned as a possible candidate, but he wasn’t picked by the coaches.
Korver could still make the team, however. Miami’s Dwyane Wade, picked as a reserve, is sidelined with a strained right hamstring that could keep him out through the All-Star break. If he’s unable to go, Commissioner Adam Silver will name a replacement.
As it stands, the Hawks will have their most players in the All-Star Game since John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield made it 35 years ago.
Korver said he’s good either way.
“It’s never been a goal of mine to be an All-Star,” the 33-year-old said after practice Thursday. “Not too many years ago, I don’t think many people even thought I was a legitimate starter.”
There was really no doubt about Millsap, Teague and Horford, who have propelled the Hawks to a start that no one saw coming. They lead the league in victories and have the second-best winning percentage behind Golden State.
Millsap, who will be making his second straight All-Star appearance, leads the team in scoring (17.2 points a game) and rebounding (8.1), in addition to averaging 3.2 assists and 1.7 steals. Viewed as more of a role player during seven years in Utah, the 6-foot-8 forward has blossomed since signing with Atlanta as a bargain-basement free agent before last season. He has made more 3-pointers in less than two seasons with the Hawks than he attempted during his time with the Jazz, which has opened up his entire offensive game.
“We didn’t realize Paul could do this much, be this impactful,” Budenholzer said.
Teague will be making his first All-Star appearance. A first-round pick in 2009, he showed flashes of potential over his first four seasons but really began to blossom under Budenholzer. The point guard is averaging 17 points and 7.5 assists.
“Coach Bud gave me the opportunity,” Teague said. “All you can do is play hard for someone who gives you that kind of respect.”
Horford will be making his third All-Star appearance, but his first since 2011. He has endured two serious injuries since then, playing just 11 games in 2011-12 and 29 games a year ago. The 6-10 center is averaging 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists, gaining confidence and minutes as the season has gone along.
“It’s a great honor,” Horford said, “but at the same time we’re focused on the team and what we have at hand.”
Budenholzer and his staff already claimed a spot leading the Eastern Conference by virtue of the Hawks’ record, making him the first Atlanta coach to gain that honor since Lenny Wilkens in 1994.
Also, second-year point guard Dennis Schroder was selected to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, which means the Hawks will be well represented on All-Star weekend in the Big Apple.
“We love for our players to have success and for our players to be appreciated,” Budenholzer said. “There’s a sense of pride. They work really hard. They do a lot of things we appreciate. If other people are appreciating them, that’s a good thing.”
One Atlanta player who won’t be in New York, backup guard Kent Bazemore, had an idea for how Budenholzer should handle all those Hawks he’ll have on the bench, with an eye toward the rest of the season.
“Hopefully coach rests ‘em all,” Bazemore said of his teammates, “and runs the other guys in the ground.”
Budenholzer chuckled when someone told him of the plan.
“I may bring Kent and have him sit next to me on the bench,” the coach said. “He’s got some good suggestions.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963