Hawks (17-17, 5-9 road, 7th East) @ Bucks (15-23, 10-5 home, 10th East)
Bucks Stats: Offense 20th (100.9 pts/100 poss), Defense 27th (107.1), Rebounding 14th (.503 rr), Pace 18th (93.4)
Hawks Stats: Offense 19th (101.1 pts/100 poss), Defense 8th (101.3), Rebounding 17th (.501 rr), Pace 23rd (92.9)
Bucks Injuries: Desmond Mason is out another month or so with a torn ligament in his left thumb. David Noel still hasn't played since injuring his wrist in November.
Hawks Injuries: Zaza Pachulia is day-to-day with a left foot injury. He has missed four straight games.
07/08 Series: 1-1. The Bucks overcame Josh Smith's 38 points to beat the Hawks 105-96 on Nov. 17 at the Bradley Center (Frank's recap). The Hawks evened the season series with a 96-80 win at Philips Arena on Nov. 28 (my recap / Frank's recap).
- After dropping four straight games, the Hawks have won three of their last four. Last night, they beat the Nuggets 104-93 thanks to a balanced team effort in which six Hawks scored in double figures, topped by Joe Johnson's 22 points. This completely contrasted the Nuggets, who relied on Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, and J.R. Smith to score 84 of their 93 total points. In other words, three players combined to score all but nine points for the Nuggets. Eduardo Najera and Anthony Carter started, played 48 combined minutes, and didn't score. Aside from the big three, the small four Nuggets combined to shoot 14.2 % (4-28), didn't shoot a free throw, picked up 13 fouls, and combined for zero steals. Ouch and a half.
- In the first two Bucks-Hawks matchups, the Hawks shot 16.6 % (5-30) on three-pointers. That's not quite typical, but no team in the NBA makes fewer from downtown than the Hawks, averaging 3.8 as a team per game. They also shoot the worst percentage in the league, converting just 32.2 % of their outside attempts.
- The Hawks help make up for their poor outside shooting by making free throws, and lots of them. They make 21.9 free throws per game, fourth best in the NBA. One reason that Marvin Williams is breaking out this season is his newfound ability to get to the free throw line. He's making 5.2 free throws per game, after only attempting 4.1 per game last season.
- The Hawks haven't spent a second of their first 75 days of the season more than three games above or below the .500 mark. In fact, since Dec. 3, the Hawks have been within two games of .500, one way or the other. While that sounds like they are treading in mediocrity, it's actually a sign of progress. Consider: the Hawks haven't finished within three games of .500 the last eight years. They went 31-19 in the lockout-marred 1998-99 season.
- Currently holding the number seven seed in the playoffs, the Hawks have a chance to end their long postseason draught. The last time they made the playoffs was 1997-98, behind Mookie Blaylock, Dikembe Motombo, and Steve Smith. While the reward for wrapping one of the final two playoff spots will result in a short-lived date with the Celtics or Pistons, we're pretty sure the Hawks would prefer that to missing the playoffs for what would amount to a decade straight. Not many of the current top eight teams in the East are likely to fall out, but the Bucks would be wise to beat the Hawks, who are perhaps the most likely candidate to drop.
- The Bucks return home to the Bradley Center, where they are 10-5. No team in the NBA has played fewer than their 15 home games. Meanwhile, the Hawks arrive in Milwaukee carrying a 5-9 road record. No team in the NBA has played fewer than their 14 home games.
- With the exception of the Pistons, the Central Division has been highly disappointing. The defending conference champion Cavaliers are hovering around .500, the aforementioned Bulls are strangely inadequate, and the Pacers and Bucks hardly scare anyone. However, the Bucks, at 15-23 are the best last-place team in the NBA. It's certainly not a prestigious distinction to rate better than the Clippers, Grizzlies, Knicks, Heat, and Timberwolves, but it's better than the opposite.
- Try to guess who has the second best PER and Roland Rating on the Hawks. This player also leads his team in field goal percentage. If you guessed Josh Smith or Joe Johnson, you'd be wrong. Al Horford or Marvin Williams, maybe? Try again. Here's a clue: he has yet to start a game this year. The correct answer is Josh Childress, one of the most underrated players in the league. Averaging 12.3 points on 59.4 % shooting along with 5.2 rebounds makes Childress a worthy contender for 6th Man of the Year.
- It's seemingly all coming together for Andrew Bogut. The momentum may continue tonight, because in two games so far against the Hawks, he's averaging 19.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.0 blocks, 2.0 steals, and shooting 62.9 % from the field.
- Michael Redd has better numbers than fellow shooting guard Joe Johnson this season, but Johnson is heating up. In his last four games, he's averaging 27.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists.