By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Atlanta Hawks have blindsided the National Basketball Association this season, surging to the top of the standings with a selfless style as refreshing as their emergence.
No one considered the Hawks (52-14) a title contender before the season's start, but here they are leading the Eastern Conference by a comfortable margin and a half-game from the best mark in basketball ahead of Monday's game in Sacramento.
What has set them apart is how they work together.
"Coach (Mike Budenholzer) has done a great job of getting guys that fit (together). "When you have that on the floor it's hard to beat."
The Hawks have certainly proven that, arriving as a true contender with a 19-game win streak that began in December and included a perfect record in the month of January.
Now the season's surprise package are heading toward their first division, and regular season conference titles since 1994.
The Hawks are not without star power, sending four players to February's All-Star Game in Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Al Horford. But the All-Star selections were as much a nod to the team's success as they were individual honors.
"We're not like every other team, we don't have superstars," said Hawks guard Dennis Schroder. "We're sharing the ball like no one else."
Atlanta move the ball and play hard-nosed defense in a manner that is reminiscent of the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
That makes sense considering Budenholzer spent 18 years with the Spurs as a video coordinator and assistant coach before being hired by Atlanta prior to the 2013-14 season.
Budenholzer's structure helped the team reach the playoffs before a first-round exit last season and has allowed them to stay above front office turmoil.
The Hawks ownership has reportedly agreed to sell their stakes in the team following racially insensitive remarks found in emails from co-owner Bruce Levenson, and general manager Danny Ferry who is on a leave of absence.
On the court, the Hawks are sold on Budenholzer who used to share stories about his time with five-time champions Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan.
He does not do that much anymore as the team is carving out their own story; one where every player enjoys a lead role.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)