On the Hawks:
The Bucks got a well-deserved holiday break following their wins over the Lakers and Kings, returning to the BC tonight looking to avoid a letdown against their old friends from Atlanta. The Hawks roll into town at a more-than-respectable 19-13, but their loss in New Orleans yesterday was their fifth straight road defeat after starting the season 8-3 away from Philips Arena.
Peachtree Hoops: Hawks update. Kris Willis has all the Hawk headlines from the weekend, which saw the return of Jamal Crawford (sore back) and a continuation of Atlanta's strange inability to get Al Horford the ball in fourth quarters. On the positive side, Josh Smith has five straight double-doubles and all of a sudden can make three pointers (22-55 on the season), though I'm hoping that the crippling boredom of Milwaukee (and Luc Mbah a Moute) can throw him off his game.
This is the Hawks' first game at the BC since crushing the Bucks (and their playoff hopes) 83-69 in game six of their first round playoff series, though the Bucks got a small token of revenge when they laid a surprise beatdown on the Hawks in Atlanta in November.
All-Star Bigs? Horford and Andrew Bogut are both making pretty compelling cases to back up Dwight Howard on the Eastern Conference all-star squad, but I'm not sure there will be room for both of them--especially with Amare Stoudemire seeing lots of small-ball center action in New York. Bogut has a clear edge on the defensive end, blocking three times as many shots (2.90 bpg vs. 0.91) and rebounding at a higher rate as well (11.4 rpg vs. 9.6), while Horford wins going away on the offensive end. The former Florida man is averaging 19.8 pts/40 on 60.7% true shooting and turns it over on just 8.0% of possessions, while Bogut is putting up 16.1 pts/40 on just 52.1% with an 11.4% turnover rate.
What's perhaps most impressive about Horford's game is how much damage he does on the perimeter. He's doubled the number of long jumpers he takes (from 2.2 to 4.5/game) while converting at an incredible 59% clip (85/145), best in the league among players with more than 35 attempts from that range. He's especially dangerous in pick & roll situations, ranking 6th in the league with 1.23 points per possession and making 63% of his shots--much of it on pick/pop action. In contrast, Bogut takes twice as many shots/game at the rim but has only taken eight shots outside of 10 feet all season (including three end-of-quarter Hail Marys), missing each and every one of them.
Injury report. Corey Maggette (concussion) isn't listed on the injury report, so presumably he will be available tonight after suiting up but not playing in Sacramento. Meanwhile, Drew Gooden (plantar fasciitis) is listed as questionable.
JS: Holiday schedule suits Bucks. While we normally complain about the Bucks' lack of national visibility, it turns out to be a very useful thing around the holidays. There were plenty of complaints from the ten teams that played on Christmas day, but the Bucks managed to have a nice break, flying into Milwaukee in the early morning hours on Friday and having both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off to spend with their families. As Charles Gardner reports, that also provided a chance for Andrew Bogut and the Bucks to re-energize after a draining road trip that ended with a pair of much-needed wins.
"It’s a good time to get some rest, more than anything," he said. "These last two games, I didn’t feel good. So I utilized these last two days… I didn’t leave my house. Just rested and stayed off my legs and I felt much better today.
"So if you can use these (holidays) as a rest. The worse thing you want to be is on your legs shopping all day and going to Chicago and doing those things. I think if you get rest and be smart, you can really utilize these days.
"For some reason the road took a lot out of me. I didn’t feel my best and I tried to push through the last three games. We got two wins thankfully, and we had a couple days off now to get my legs back under me."
Rebounding struggles. A bit lost in the all the positivity of the Bucks' two wins in California were their sudden struggles on the glass, which Dan discussed earlier today. The Bucks were first in the league in defensive rebound rate after the San Antonio game, having snagged 78.4% of opponent misses through 24 games, a step up from the 76.4% they managed in 09/10 when they ranked third in the NBA. But Milwaukee struggled to keep the Jazz, Blazers, Lakers, and Magic from getting second chances, grabbing just 63% of opponent misses over the course of four games and 67% or less in each one. For some context, the Warriors are worst in the league with a 68.4% DReb%, so the Bucks' numbers over the past week have been straight-up awful.
So what gives? The Blazers, Kings and Lakers are all in the league's top five in offensive rebound rate, so competition certainly explains some of it (how the Bucks have been crushed on the boards in both games by the meek-rebounding Jazz is less obvious). The lack of energy Bogut referenced could also be part of it, and the absence of Gooden (2nd on the team with a 16.3% rebound rate) and Maggette (very good for an SF with 10.6%) don't help on the boards either.
JS: Bucks finding their comfort zone
The 09/10 Bucks were a likable bunch, but more importantly they seemed to really like each other. And while there were some grumblings about locker room issues a few weeks ago, Keyon Dooling says that's now in the rear view mirror.
"I think that was holding us back as far as camaraderie and cohesiveness on the team because if you have the new guys and the old guys, it's kind of separate," said veteran point guard Keyon Dooling. "But now, I just think that this is our team. This is who we have, and we're starting to jell.
"Coach holds us all accountable. We've got a lot of games under our belt. We've had some rough streaks. We've played our way out of it, and we don't want to look back."