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Bucks vs. Hawks Preview: Hawks travel to Milwaukee for first matchup of season against Bucks

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Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The road has been unkind to the Milwaukee Bucks this season, but at least they've been demonstrably better in front of their home crowd.

Following a 106-101 loss at the hands of the Washington Wizards, the Bucks return home for their first matchup of the season against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

Bucks update

The second of three road games for the Bucks this week didn't go much better than their Sunday loss to Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks on Sunday. For one quarter, the Bucks played well against the Wizards, outscoring them 31-15 in the third. The other three were a completely different story, especially the fourth.

MORE: Bucks interested for Kevin Martin?

After building momentum from Giannis Antetokounmpo's 13 points in the quarter, the Bucks led 74-71 after three and were well positioned to capture sixth road win of the season. Instead, they went scoreless for the first four minutes of the fourth, committed 12 sloppy turnovers in the period and were dragged across the finish line. In the span of 24 hours, Milwaukee committed a season-high 27 total turnovers in Washington after recording a season-low five against the Bulls the night before (hello, inconsistency). Confusing is an understatement to describe the game.

Frank touched on the defensive performance in our thoughts section of last night's recap:

"The Bucks' defense is...collectively braindead? That's all you can conclude after watching them continually make the same basic mistakes over and over and over...and over. Whatever improvements that you might reasonably expect to come from the experience and repetitions of playing together seems to be completely overridden by a lack of will and focus to do very simple things. Example: In the first half, Garrett Temple caught the ball on the wing and Rashad Vaughn came over to cover him. Good. Temple gives a slight fake -- really a hesitation more than anything, and Vaughn leaves him in anticipation of a swing pass. Instead he hits an open three. Then in the fourth the EXACT SAME THING happens to Khris while defending Dudley, who also hit an open three. A minute later another complete miscommunication leaves Dudley standing wide open in the corner for a backbreaking three. I don't think this group is condemned to be the worst defense in the league forever -- there has to be some team that's worse, right? -- but they look like a group that needs a few weeks of training camp to get on the same page."

The Bucks have fallen back down to last in the league in defense rating (109.8) after Wednesday's performance. All three of the Bucks' opponents this week (even the Bulls, who they defeated) have scored 100 points or more.

If there has been any consistent bright spot for the Bucks of late, it's Khris Middleton, who's been on a complete tear. Middleton's averaging 23.9 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 44.9 from deep with five assists over his last 9 games. We all knew Middleton could shoot, but over the past two months he's developed into much more of an offensive focal point than anyone might have expected. Not surprisingly he's been lethal from midrange and distance (see below), but he's also piling up assists and looking ever more comfortable creating offense out of pick and roll.

MiddletonLast9Shot

Injury report: Jerryd Bayless (ankle) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring soreness) are both listed as out for Friday's contest. This leaves the Bucks and their 27th ranked bench unit without a reliable shooter. That's not saying Mayo has been reliable by any means this season, but they look more towards him than young rookie Rashad Vaughn. Related: the Bucks hit just one three in Washington, and have connected on just seven total in their last three games.

Hawks update

Paul Millsap was the only Hawks player to score in double-digits in Atlanta's 107-84 loss to the Hornets on Wednesday. Frontcourt mate Al Horford had his worst performance of the season, scoring just two points and finishing with a plus/minus of -31, the worst mark for a Hawks player this season. Charlotte snapped a seven-game losing streak and were led by Kemba Walker, who scored a game-high 23 points. The Hawks were outrebounded 54-37, allowed a 35-point third quarter by the Hornets and only shot a mere 37 percent as a team. They trailed by as many as 35 and only led once when Millsap scored the opening basket.

Millsap is certainly putting together an All-Star caliber season for the Hawks. In 39 games, he's averaging a career-high 18.3 points on 48 percent shooting (51 true) with six rebounds per game.  He also ranks third among power forwards in offensive real plus minus at +3.54 and only trails Golden State's Draymond Green in total real plus minus at +5.80.

The Hawks have won 13 of the last 15 meetings against the Bucks, including six in a row inside the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee has had their fair share of defensive breakdowns and offensive inconsistency this season, but at least this is encouraging: Opponents have topped 100 points in five of Atlanta's last six. Can they keep the trend going?

Injury note: Thabo Sefolosha is questionable to play Friday with a wrist injury.

On the Hawks: Peachtree Hoops

2015/16 NBA Season
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(16-25, 11-7 home)
vs.
Atlanta hawks.vc71542f
(23-16, 10-9 road)
January 15, 2016
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin / 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Michael Carter-Williams PG Jeff Teague
Khris Middleton SG Kyle Korver
Giannis Antetokounmpo SF Kent Bazemore
Jabari Parker PF Paul Millsap
Greg Monroe C Al Horford
2014/15 Advanced Stats
93.9 (23rd) Pace 96.7 (9th)
103.7 (23rd) ORtg 105.9 (9th)
109.8 (30th) DRtg 104.2 (14th)