Hawks/Bucks: Possible playoff preview in Milwaukee

2009/2010 NBA Season

Atl_2_medium


Mil_2_medium
45-24 (17-17 road)
vs.
38-30 (23-9 home)
March 22, 2010
Bradley Center
7:00 PM
Radio: WTMJ AM 620 TV: FSN Wisconsin
Probable starters:
Mike Bibby
PG Brandon Jennings
Joe Johnson
SG John Salmons
Marvin Williams
SF Carlos Delfino
Josh Smith
PF Luc Mbah a Moute
Al Horford
C Andrew Bogut

(3rd) 111.9 - OFFENSE - 104.5 (23rd)
(12th) 106.6 - DEFENSE - 102.6 (3rd)
(26th) 90.6 - PACE - 92.5 (16th)

Coverage

Peachtree Hoops / Hoopinion / Hawks Str8Talk

Playoff Hunting.  The Hawks' 119-114 OT home win over the Spurs officially clinched a playoff berth for Atlanta and moved them into a tie with Boston for the third-best record in the East.  Atlanta owns the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of sweeping the season series 4-0, but Boston has the more important tiebreaker in that they're guaranteed to be a division winner while Orlando leads Atlanta by 3.5 games in the Southeast.  That's also a big deal to the fifth seeded Bucks, who at 38-30 hold a three game lead on sixth-seeded Miami.  As for the teams' remaining schedules, ESPN has a great page tracking what each club is facing the rest of the way.  Atlanta has eight of their final 13 games on the road but just six against winning teams, while Boston has eight of 13 at home and eight against winning clubs.

Meanwhile, the Bucks have a home-heavy finish with nine of their final 14 at the BC, but nine against winning teams--including a finish that features home games against the Celtics and Hawks before the finale in Boston on April 14.  Needless to say, the Bucks will be hoping that Atlanta and Boston aren't still battling for playoff positioning at that point.  Chasing Milwaukee for the fifth spot are Miami (four home, eight away, just one vs. +.500), Charlotte (8/5/3) and Toronto (7/7/7).

Jennings.  Thankfully, the rookie's on-court game is still much more impressive than his off-court game.  Via Bucks.com:

Jennings is averaging 19.1 points with 5.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals in the last seven games, shooting 45.0 percent (45-100) from the field, 54.8 percent (23-42) from three-point range and 87.5 percent (21-24) from the line. Jennings is averaging 3.3 threes per game in those seven and the Bucks are 12-7 when he hits three or more threes in a game.

Peaking?  In reading up on the Hawks I read a pretty interesting State of the Franchise post over at Hawks Str8Talk.  Not only was it an interesting take on Atlanta's situation, but it's also food for thought as we consider what the Bucks' recent success means for the future. Consider:

1. Hawks have reached their plateau as presently constituted.

I make that comment not to say that there are not ways that the team could play better, grow as players and a team, but with our current philosophy in team offense, team defense, and a pretty consistent lock on the rotation and lack of changes in our strategies. We are who we are. Anyone who thinks otherwise will need to show evidence of it. Our problems with 4th quarter offense, with playing elite level defense, and with focus are well documented and frankly - nothing has changed about that all season.

The Hawks will be an interesting team to watch this summer, as there's already plenty of speculation about Joe Johnson leaving for New York (and his former coach Mike D'Antoni) or one of the other teams ready to throw their cap space around.  Do they try to re-up the soon-to-be 29-year old Johnson for the long haul or risk taking a step backward next year rather than overpay a non-superstar?

The Bucks may face a minor version of the same dilemma if/when John Salmons opts out of the final year of his current deal this summer.  That looks increasingly likely now that the 30-year old Salmons is putting up big scoring numbers (19.8 ppg) since escaping Vinny Del Negro's doghouse and making his way north for the greener pastures of Wisconsin.  But as discussed in the FanPosts, I think most of us agree that the Bucks would be well-served not to get too carried away with their unexpected success this season.  As much pressure as there is to add to the existing roster, John Hammond's best move may be to let Salmons walk if another team is willing to offer a multi-year deal for the MLE.

Underlying any discussion of Salmons' worth is how good the Bucks can be with him back in the fold (and perhaps another immediate rotation player from the June draft).  You could make a good case that the current Bucks are playing about as well as could be expected given the talent on the roster, meaning that going from the mid-40s to mid-50s in the win department will likely require more than just standing pat.  The exception would be if Brandon Jennings and/or Andrew Bogut make huge strides next year, which isn't out of the question (more so in Jennings' case).  But that's really at the heart of the Bucks' dilemma--is the Bogut/Jennings base enough to be a consistent 50-win team?  And even if it is, how much more do they need to be a real contender?  I don't think anyone believes the team as currently constructed has the firepower to challenge teams like the Lakers, Cavs and Magic in April, May and June, but the question then becomes what the Bucks can do about it.

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