Vivlamore reporting from Philips Arena. Here is my updated story on Al Horford after my conversation with him following this morning’s practice.
Reality hit Al Horford – and it hit hard.
The Hawks center said Wednesday he will not be available for the team’s first-round playoff series against the Celtics. He has not progressed enough following surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle.
“I realized that I’m not nearly where I need to be or want to be – not even to give the team anything,” Horford said. “That’s when we kind of decided that it was best for me to take some time off, keep working, see how I progress. But we are just not where we need to be yet.”
The Hawks could also be without center Zaza Pachulia when the playoffs begin. Pachulia will not play in Thursday’s regular-season finale against the Mavericks, the seventh straight game he will have missed with a sprained left foot. Coach Larry Drew said Paculia is scheduled to be re-examined this weekend – when the NBA playoffs are scheduled to begin.
“Don’t know,” Drew said when asked whether Pachulia would be ready for the postseason.
Horford competed in 4-on-4 full-court drills Monday and following the workout was encouraged with how he felt. He said he even made a few baskets. The feeling changed the following morning when Horford said he “felt like I went backward.”
“I knew from the very beginning that I wasn’t going to be able to get my strength until later this summer but I have very, very little strength in the post where I can’t hold my own ground,” Horford said. “The playoffs are intense. The intensity goes up. You can go in and play in a practice. You can even play in a regular-season game. But the playoffs are different. The way that I play, and to be most effective to the team, I’m not at that point.”
Horford did not dismiss the idea that he could be ready for the second round of the playoffs should the Hawks advance.
Knowing that his return would provide a boost, Horford tried to convince himself it was possible. He even discussed with coaches a change in his playing style – using picks to get jump shots. That’s not Horford’s game – and he knew it.
“I have to be in the paint,” Horford said. “I want to be a presence inside being able to get tough rebounds, defend. I feel like I’m a good post defender. If I come out, I would be limited to doing stuff that I can do but it’s not what I’m all about.”
Horford had surgery Jan. 17 after suffering the injury six days earlier against the Pacers. The original diagnosis called for him to miss three to four months. He has missed 54 of the team’s 65 games going into Thursday’s finale.
During rehab, Horford has been limited to lifting a light amount of weight, designed only to maintain the range of motion in his shoulder.
“It’s tough because I’m trying to look at it different ways and tell myself that yes I can play,” Horford said. “It’s hard when you are hit with reality like this. This is the first time that I’ve actually had an injury of this type and any type of surgery. I’m learning from this and hopefully this will make me a better player. I know I’m going to be much more motivated when I come back, I tell you that, whenever it is. I have to keep working and see what happens.”