The be the best you've gotta beat the best, and to beat the best you've gotta play the best.
The Milwaukee Bucks have got that second part down cold.
Two days after getting shellacked by the now-Western-Conference-Champion Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee heads to Atlanta to take on another conference champion. The Hawks clinched the East's best record last Friday with a 99-86 win over the Miami Heat, and celebrated by giving their entire starting lineup the night off (Jeff Teague was previously ruled out with a sprained ankle) on Saturday. The Charlotte Hornets took advantage, getting a 115-100 win at home, but for Atlanta it's all about getting ready for the playoffs now. For the Bucks, it's all about just getting there intact.
The loss in Charlotte isn't any concern for Atlanta. The Hawks now have their eyes set on ensuring the health of their roster going into the playoffs where they'll have home-court advantage through at least the conference finals. That's big for the Hawks, who have the best home record in the East at 31-5. One of those five is the 107-77 drubbing Milwaukee put on 'em the day after Christmas, the first of three wins for the visiting team in this season series.
While the Hawks are sitting pretty with their playoff seeding, they're not exactly closing the season in prime form. They've lost four of their last six games, allowing their opponents to shoot over 51% from the field in each of those losses. But there have been mitigating circumstances in most of those games, from key injuries to lights-out three-point shooting by their opponents.
The good news for Atlanta is that their remaining schedule should afford a few more nights off for those starters. Only three of the Hawks' remaining opponents currently sport winning records. Stringing together a bunch of losses might not matter in the standings at this point, but it's not a great way to build confidence heading into the postseason.
Much like Golden State, the Hawks excel at shooting efficiently and preventing their opponents from doing the same. They also carry a big advantage in scoring at the free-throw line, ranking in the top third of the NBA in free-throw rate while fouling very seldom themselves. They also turn opponents over at a top-5 rate, though their own turnover rate is also somewhat high. And for all their success, not to mention an impressive 4/5 combo in Millsap and Horford, the Hawks are pretty bad on the glass, ranking in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage.
Jared Dudley had recently returned to the lineup this past week after missing time with a sore back, but will be out tonight as a precautionary measure. Some may choose to not believe that, but they would be wrong. Dudley confirmed it himself on Twitter.
RT @brewhoop: Feel bad for Dudley,finally started to get things going last night. (I'm 100% fine.Just being pre cautious, I'll be ready wed)— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) March 30, 2015
Jeff Teague (ankle) is likely to return to the lineup, according to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Mike Scott is out with a left toe sprain, which is a real injury.
Key Matchup: Kyle Korver vs. Bucks defense
Did you know that Kyle Korver is a really lethal shooter? Did you also know that the Bucks' defense can oftentimes leave shooters open if they are not attentive? In order for this game to be close, Milwaukee will need to keep a body--preferably one with really long arms--on Korver as much as possible. In the first two matchups between these two teams, the Bucks were able to do that and at least make shots difficult for Korver, who was mostly cold those nights. In the third matchup they did a decent job until the fourth quarter, where Korver got loose on three consecutive possessions, all of which he buried shots on. That little stretch allowed the Hawks to pull away for the win.
So yeah, keeping the clamps down on that guy would go a long way in helping the Bucks increase their chances of winning.
|2014/2015 NBA Season|
|March 30, 2015|
|Philips Arena | Atlanta, GA|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Jeff Teague|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Kyle Korver|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||DeMarre Carroll|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||Paul Millsap|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Al Horford|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|93.9 (16th)||Pace||94.0 (14th)|
|102.7 (26th)||ORtg||108.7 (6th)|
|102.5 (3rd)||DRtg||103.2 (9th)|