ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks open the preseason against the team they last saw in the Eastern Conference final.
Don't expect any big motivational speeches from coach Mike Budenholzer.
"I can tell you unequivocally, no," he quipped after practice Tuesday.
The Hawks were heading to Cincinnati to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who blew out the top-seeded Hawks in four straight games to advance to the NBA Finals.
While Wednesday night's contest won't mean much in the grand scheme of Atlanta's season, it will be the first glimpse of a team that got much bigger in the offseason but no longer has emotional leader DeMarre Carroll, who signed with conference rival Toronto.
Also, this will be perhaps the biggest expectations the Hawks have faced since moving to Atlanta in 1968. They are coming off a franchise-best 60-22 record that included a 19-game winning streak and a perfect mark in January, when the entire starting lineup was named NBA players of the month, an unprecedented honor.
Budenholzer was named coach of the year and four Atlanta players were selected for the All-Star Game.
Now, they want even more.
"That's the beauty of our team," said forward Paul Millsap, who re-signed with the Hawks after testing free agency. "We're always trying to get better. We're never satisfied. We're not satisfied with 60 wins last year. We're not satisfied with the Eastern Conference finals. We want to do more. We want to be better. We want to do better."
Budenholzer hasn't decided on his playing rotation for the first preseason game, but one player he won't have at all is forward Thabo Sefolosha, who appears likely to take over Carroll's spot in the lineup.
Sefolosha is standing trial in New York for charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct during a confrontation with police officers outside a trendy Manhattan nightclub in April. He sustained a broken leg in the struggle, which knocked him out of the playoffs and cost the Hawks one of their top perimeter defenders.
Sefolosha has recovered from his injuries, but now he's away from the team again as the preseason begins. He turned down a lenient plea-bargain deal, insisting he did nothing wrong in the melee. His attorney suggests race may have played a role in his black client's arrest by a white officer.
"It shouldn't hurt anything," Millsap said of Sefolosha's absence. "He's got some personal issues he's got to deal with. We support him 100 percent. We'll be here when he gets back."
Budenholzer said the absence of Sefolosha could actually work in the Hawks' favor, giving them a chance to try some different lineup combinations and provide extra minutes to others battling for playing time at small forward, including Kent Bazemore and newcomers Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Holiday, Terran Petteway and Lamar Patterson. Also, the layoff gives Sefolosha a little more time to ensure he's fully recovered before he gets into the grind of games.
"In some ways, there are positives to be pulled from it," Budenholzer said.
Of course, no matter what happens Wednesday, it won't do anything to lessen the sting of that playoff loss to Cavaliers.
"It's the preseason," Millsap said. "It doesn't account for anything."
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