Three weeks ago, the Hawks started fast against the Bucks in Atlanta and ultimately hung on for a 107-100 win, pushing their record to a high-flying 9-2 despite missing Dwight Howard with an injury.
Alas, those days seem long ago.
Atlanta has won just twice in 12 games since mid-November, making their trip to Milwaukee on Friday a seemingly golden opportunity for the Bucks to kick Mike Budenholzer’s club while they’re down.
The Bucks shook off their disappointing Monday loss to San Antonio by dispatching the defenseless Blazers 115-107 on Wednesday. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s second triple-double of the season, a big night from the bench and Jabari Parker’s 27 points led the way as Milwaukee torched the Blazers for 27 fast break points and connected on six third quarter threes to take control of the game.
They also survived a big three point shooting night from Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and company, which highlights the Bucks’ combination of conceding tons of three point attempts (31 per game, last in the league) while “holding” opponents to the league’s worst percentage from deep (31.8%). The latter figure began to revert to the mean slightly against Portland, and it will be fascinating to see how sustainable it is going forward.
Tonight’s game also marks the end of the Bucks’ home-heavy start — this is their 14th home game out 21 games overall, with a chance to improve to 9-5 with a win tonight. They next head to Washington tomorrow and Toronto on Monday before beginning a weird sequence of three consecutive home-and-homes against the Bulls, Cavs and Wiz, and they end 2016 with three straight road games in Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago.
On the injury front, Michael Beasley is questionable with a foot sprain that forced him out of Wednesday’s win over Portland, which could mean more run for Mirza Teletovic after his DNP on Wednesday. Beasley seemed unconcerned about the injury in the locker room on Wednesday, but then again Michael Beasley never seems particularly worried about anything, right? Interestingly, the Bucks have been remarkably healthy over the past month and have yet to see any player other than Khris Middleton miss games due to injury, an underrated contributor to their promising start.
What the hell is going on in Atlanta? That was my first thought when I saw Atlanta’s horrible past three weeks, which has featured seven losses by double-digits including a back-to-back against the Pistons and Raptors that saw the Hawks outscored by a combined 80 points in a span of 24 hours. YEESH.
While the Hawks have improved greatly on the boards since the arrival of Howard (13th in both OREB% and DREB%), they’re no longer the sort of lights-out shooting team that won 60 games a couple years ago (28th in 3FG%), and they turn it over at the second-highest rate in the league. Further complicating matters: Kent Bazemore is out and Tim Hardaway is in doubt for Friday, joining Mike Scott and the perpetually injured Tiago Splitter on the sidelines.
Defensively they have been far better, ranking third in the NBA in defensive rating — albeit just 20th over the past ten games. Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha will presumably draw the task of containing Giannis and Jabari, with Millsap also the Hawks’ most dangerous threat on the other end. He’s scored 45 points on 61.5% shooting over the past two games, and the Bucks have historically struggled to cope with his combination of strength and skill.