ATLANTA – Atlanta Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Thursday after saying the league is rooting for the success of the New York Knicks and implying his team may struggle to get calls in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Hawks face the Knicks in a best-of-seven series that begins Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
McMillan called the Knicks one of the league's glamour franchises, even though this is New York's first appearance in the playoffs since 2013.
“I've talked about that to the team a lot,” McMillan told reporters during a Zoom call Wednesday. “I've gone as far as saying, the league wants this, they need this. New York, this is a big market. It's a big market for the league. New York has been out of the playoffs for a number of years. This is a team that our league, they want to see, they want to see New York in the playoffs.”
McMillan said he put his team through a grueling practice where most of the officials' calls were going against them, insinuating it will be that way in the opening round. He said he wanted the players to work on not being frustrated if the referees seemed to be favoring the Knicks.
“It's real. We're going to have to play through that,” McMillan said. “It's going to be physical. Probably a lot of calls are not going our way. We have to get back to calm and get on to the next play.”
Byron Spruell, the league's head of league operations, said McMillan was fined for “detrimental public comments asserting bias by the NBA" in the playoffs.
McMillan also told his team that most media are picking the Knicks to knock off the Hawks in the series. New York won all three games during the regular season, though Atlanta has been one of the hottest teams in the league since McMillan took over as coach shortly before the All-Star break after Lloyd Pierce was fired.
The Hawks were 14-20 when they made the coaching change. They are 27-11 since then, matching the best record of any team in the Eastern Conference over that span.
New York has also been one of the league's most surprising franchises, snapping a streak of seven straight losing seasons and edging the Hawks for the fourth seed in the East.
McMillan said the NBA benefits from having major marker teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in the playoffs.
“I put New York in that category,” he said. “The league wants to see it. Everybody wants to see it. Even the fact that our (first) game was moved to Sunday, they want to see this. Yes, we talked about that. We have talked about the advantages of this situation, and some things we’re going to have to face going into the game with everyone picking New York to win and a lot of folks wanting to see New York in the playoffs. It's a battle. It's a challenge.”
McMillan added of the Knicks, “They had a really good season. I think the NBA is excited about them being back in the playoffs.”
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