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Lionel Hollins trying to find way for Nets to compete against Hawks

Lionel Hollins of the Brooklyn Nets walks off

Lionel Hollins of the Brooklyn Nets walks off the court following a loss to the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on April 13, 2015. Credit: Mike Stobe

When Lionel Hollins peers at the roster of the Nets' first-round playoff opponent and compares it to his team, he's not exactly checking off many boxes in the Nets' favor.

How's a grand total of zero sound?

"I don't think we have any advantages over the Hawks," the Nets' coach said Thursday. "That's why they are 60-and-whatever they are and that's why we're where we are. They are a very good team . . . They've played well against a lot of teams, including us. So it's not like I think we have an advantage going in. We have to develop a game plan that can help us go out and compete with them."

That's the Nets' prize for securing the Eastern Conference's eighth seed late Wednesday night. Their victory over the Magic in a must-win scenario paired with the Pacers' subsequent loss to the Grizzlies catapulted them to a date with the top-seeded Hawks, the team that swept their four regular-season matchups and clobbered them by 17.3 points per game.

Game 1 of their best-of-seven series is set for 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Philips Arena.

Atlanta shook off its doubters all season, ascending to conference supremacy with team-first offensive and defensive philosophies ripe with principles that coach of the year candidate Mike Budenholzer learned as an assistant under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Riding their interchangeable pieces, the Hawks exerted their will on the Nets in a variety of ways, most notably knocking down 49.8 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

"They have a very versatile team," Hollins said. "They have a lot of quickness at every position and they play relatively small, and that puts you at a disadvantage when the other team is quicker than you because they are smaller than you. We have to try to combat that by doing whatever we can.

"It starts with them pushing the ball up the court and moving the ball from side-to-side, and then try to put you at a disadvantage in a certain set so you have to over-help, and then they throw it and they draw and kick."

In turn, that forces guards to scramble a lot on the perimeter and recover quickly in defensive breakdowns, something Deron Williams, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson have to focus on minimizing.

Johnson spent seven seasons with the Hawks, scoring more than 10,000 points before getting traded to the Nets in 2012, and he insists matching up with Atlanta doesn't make it any more special.

"Nah, that was three years ago when I was there," he said after Wednesday's win. "There are some guys left on the team who I played with -- Al [Horford] and Jeff [Teague]. I'm happy for those guys and what they've accomplished during the regular season.

"Obviously, Atlanta is home away from home for me. Would I love to go down there and us play the spoiler? Yeah. But there's no added pressure on me to go down there and try to have a great performance, game in and game out. I think at this point, we've got to find some type of way to come together collectively . . . and play together as a team. That's it."

Given that the boxes on the Nets' side of the individual comparison chart appear somewhat bare in Hollins' estimation, it's imperative that they do just that. Otherwise, they won't have much of a shot at becoming only the third eighth seed to upset a top seed since the league expanded the first-round format in 2003.

The feat was last accomplished in 2011, when the Grizzlies beat the Spurs. The winning coach? That would be Hollins.

"If we go out there and play as a team . . . and make plays as a group," Hollins said, "we have a chance."


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