Atlanta Hawks coach hopes bond built in London can spur side to NBA play-offs

09:58 13 January 2014

Shelvin Mack #8 of the Atlanta Hawks heads for the net as Paul Pierce #34 of the Brooklyn Nets defends at the Barclays Center. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Shelvin Mack #8 of the Atlanta Hawks heads for the net as Paul Pierce #34 of the Brooklyn Nets defends at the Barclays Center. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

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Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is hoping London can be just one more stop on a road which will see his team go all the way to the NBA play-offs in his first season as a head coach.

The Hawks are jetting in to take on the Brooklyn Nets at the O2 Arena on Thursday night, the fourth regular-season game to be played in the capital in as many years.

The match-up will bring together two rookie coaches who have steered their teams into play-off contention in the Eastern Conference as Budenholzer faces the Nets’ Jason Kidd.

And while this might be a business trip for the Hawks, Budenholzer - a veteran of several overseas trips after 19 years with the internationally-minded San Antonio Spurs - hopes it can be much more than just the chance at another win.

“We’re playing a regular-season game and the focus and attention necessary for that game is very important,” he said.

“But it is also important that we take advantage of this opportunity to experience another country, another culture as a group and we spend some time together and bond.

“The more we care about each other, the more we learn about each other and I believe this carries over to the court.”

Budenholzer took over as Hawks coach at the end of last season after helping the Spurs to yet another NBA Finals where they lost out to the Miami Heat.

It ended a long wait for the 42-year-old, who had been working towards the job throughout his time with the Spurs, where he rose from video co-ordinator to lead assistant in almost two decades after ending his playing career following a single season in Denmark.

Kidd’s path to the the top job with the Nets could hardly be more different. The 10-time All Star point guard, an Olympic gold winner in 2000 and 2008, stepped into the role barely a week after retiring across town with the New York Knicks.

Taking charge of an expensively-assembled veteran-laden squad, Kidd endured a few growing pains early in the season but his team has grown and a recent winning streak has them well placed behind Toronto in the Atlantic Division.

“There has been plenty of examples of guys like Jason Kidd who have gone straight from playing to being very successful as a coach - Larry Bird, Doc Rivers are just a couple - but for me, my growth and preparation to be a head coach, it was critical to have spent 19 years with San Antonio to have been around Gregg Popovich and the players,” Budenholzer said.

“You learn so much from the head coaches, your fellow assistants and from the players.

“I’ve been telling people one of the biggest challenges for me in stepping up is handling the media which is not something I’ve done before, but a former player like Jason Kidd is very comfortable doing it and he has a big leg-up on the other coaches in that sense.

“I think he’s going to be a very good head coach in our league. He was making decisions as a point guard and now he’s making decisions as a head coach. He’s going to be very good.”

Budenholzer has already faced one significant challenge in his young coaching career, trying to keep his team on course after the loss of All-Star centre Al Horford to a season-ending injury.

They have leaned more on three-point shooting but Budenholzer said he had done little in terms of changing his philosophy.

“Even with Al [in the team] we were shooting a lot of threes,” he said. “It’s something with emphasise and believe in.

“When you replace Al’s minutes with [Pero] Antic playing more, he shoots more threes than Al but we’re still trying to attack the paint as well.

“There’s been some slight adjustments but we want to play to our strengths and that’s something we’ve been emphasising all year, even when Al was healthy.”

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