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Atlanta Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan fined $25,000 for saying NBA wants New York Knicks in playoffs

The NBA fined Atlanta Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan $25,000 on Thursday for making comments Wednesday “asserting bias by the NBA relating to the 2020-21 Playoffs,” the league announced.

On Wednesday in a Zoom call with the media, McMillan, whose Hawks play the Knicks in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, said the NBA wants New York in the playoffs. He said on the call that that’s the message he has delivered to his team.

“Absolutely, I’ve talked about that to the team a lot. Basically, I’ve gone as far as saying the league wants this,” he said. “They need this, New York, this is a big market for the league, and New York has been out of the playoffs for a number of years.

“And this is a team that our league, they want to see — there’s a huge fan base — and they want to see New York in the playoffs.”

He added: “The league wants to see it, everybody wants to see this. Even to the fact that our [opening] game was moved to Sunday, they want to see this.

“So, yes, we have talked about that, about the advantages of this situation and some things that we’re going to have to face, going into [Game 1], 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, just playing New York, all that comes with it. … They’ve had a really good season, and I think the NBA is excited about having them back in the playoffs.”

McMillan also said on the call that “there’s going to be a lot of calls that probably won’t go our way,” explaining how his team needs to remain calm under the pressure.

In addition, McMillan said he 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.

The Knicks (41-31), in the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season, are set to host Game 1 against the Hawks (41-31) on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. Atlanta is in the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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