Atlanta Hawks coach/GM playing to put Nets into the lottery?

The Atlanta Hawks could make the difference between the Nets making the playoffs and making the lottery, and they’ll gladly choose the latter.

With the Nets are in the midst of a surprise playoff push, winning six games in a row and 10 of 12, they face off against the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night. They’ll also play them once more this season. But even as the season winds down and the Hawks begin resting players, coach & interim general manager Mike Budenholzer won’t rest them against the Nets — and he’s not hiding why, per Rod Boone of Newsday:

But Budenholzer claimed that the draft picks did not influence his decision, per Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:

If you believe that, the Nets have a first-round pick to sell you.

In case you’ve forgotten: the Nets gave the Hawks the right to swap first-round draft picks this season as part of the package to acquire Joe Johnson. The Hawks will almost assuredly pick 29th in this draft, and the Nets will most likely land in the middle of the first round. But a lottery pick is better than a 15th pick & above, and the lower the Nets are, the higher their chances of vaulting into the top 3.

RELATED CHART: Future Nets Drafts, Detailed

The Nets are 35-40 heading into Saturday’s Hawks game, and hold the seventh seed outright. But they’re only a half-game up on the eighth-seeded Miami Heat and 1.5 games above the ninth-seeded Boston Celtics, so they can use every win they can get down this stretch. Facing off against the 56-19 Atlanta Hawks at full strength, on the road, on the second half of a back-to-back? That’s, uh, quite the challenge.