ATLANTA — Al Horford had hoped to give the Atlanta Hawks a boost in the playoffs.
Now he knows that won't be possible, at least not in the opening round.
The All-Star center said Wednesday he's definitely out for the best-of-seven series against Boston, which begins this weekend. The Hawks will get home-court if they win their regular-season finale against Dallas, or if the Celtics lose their last game to Milwaukee.
"You obviously want to be there for your team and try to help them," Horford said after taking some shots on his own at the Philips Arena practice court. "But I realized I'm not nearly where I need to be or want to be to give the team anything."
Horford, one of Atlanta's key players along with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, has missed most of the season recovering from surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle. The team has persevered without him, going into its final game clinging to the fourth-best record in the East.
All along, though, the Hawks held out hope that Horford might be healthy enough to give the team a boost in the playoffs. He was especially eager to return after his replacement, Zaza Pachulia, went down a couple of weeks ago with a sprained left foot, casting doubt on whether he'll be able to go in the playoffs. Third-stringer Jason Collins has been filling in as the starting center, though he's rarely on the court at crucial points in the game.
After practicing four-on-four Monday, Horford was optimistic about returning to face the Celtics. But, when he woke up sore and weak the next day, he was forced to concede that his left arm just isn't strong enough to endure the wear-and-tear of a grueling playoff series.
"We kind of decided it's best for me to take some time off, keep working and just see how I progress," Horford said. "It's frustrating for me. I want to play. I want to get out there with the guys. I know what it's all about. This is the time of year you play for. By my body is just not responding with me. I can't do it."
Even under the best of circumstances, Horford knew he wouldn't be able to get all his strength back until the summer. But he tried to persuade himself that he had recovered enough to at least give the Hawks some decent minutes in the playoffs.
Realistically, that won't be possible in the opening round. The 6-foot-10 Horford is already a bit undersized for his position, and there's no way he could bang in the lane with essentially one arm.
"I have very, very little strength," he conceded. "The playoffs are intense. The intensity goes way up. I can go in and play with the guys in practice here. I might even be able to play in a regular-season game. But the playoffs are different. The way I play, to be most effective to the team, I'm not at that point yet."
Horford is still hoping to play in the second round if the Hawks advance.
"I'm learning from this," he said. "Hopefully this will make me a better player. I'll be much more motivated when I come back, I'll tell you that much, whenever it is. I just have to keep working and see what happens."