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Bucks vs. Hawks Preview: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker look to tame hot Hawks for third time

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Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Losers of three straight, the Bucks wrap up a three-game road trip in Atlanta on Friday night hoping for a repeat of their double-overtime win at Philips Arena in late February.

Bucks Update

The Bucks have shot 50% or better from the field in three straight games. They have also lost three games in a row.

Chalk it up as the latest weird week in a season full of weird weeks, as the Bucks' struggles on the defensive boards and defense more broadly ultimately cost them in losses to the Jazz, Pistons and Cavs. Jason Kidd's lineup "experimentation" probably isn't helping from winning perspective either, as younger guys like Tyler Ennis and Damien Inglis and even D-League call-up Jared Cunningham are seeing major minutes off the bench. With the Bucks' postseason hopes long gone, I'm certainly happy to see Ennis and Inglis getting an opportunity to show what they can do, though the fact that Rashad Vaughn has moved his brick-laying act from Milwaukee (29% field goals) to Canton (27% in three games, 0/11 threes) isn't terribly encouraging. On the one hand, Vaughn's struggles have been so severe that you could argue a pick-me-up in the D-League might be a good thing, though presumably no one expected Vaughn to struggle in Canton, too. He's too talented to struggle like this forever, but losing minutes to a guy likely heading back down to the D-League shortly isn't a good look for anyone.

Otherwise I wish we would see some more variation in the Bucks' big man lineups, though Kidd has been oddly persistent in running Greg Monroe with the first unit and John Henson/Miles Plumlee together off the bench. The starters have a solidly positive differential with Monroe but have been even better with Plumlee, and it's probably not a coincidence that Parker has tailed off over the past couple weeks since Monroe returned to the starting five. Part of the issue may certainly be related to not wanting to bench Monroe again -- don't expect that to help his trade value -- though it's not like he needs to be playing entire quarters either.

Weirdly, Kidd hasn't tried to get Henson any minutes with the starters since his return, as Bayless, Middleton, Parker and Antetokounmpo have only played five minutes all season with Henson. Some of that is related to his injuries in January and February, though you'd think the Bucks would at least want to take a look at it given Plumlee's success and the theoretical fit between Parker and a rim-protecting big man like Henson. Instead, Kidd has used Henson almost exclusively as a power forward with Plumlee, which is especially odd considering Monroe figures to need his help defensively more than Plumlee. Much of it is of course related to the aforementioned starting dynamic, though there's also nothing that would prevent Kidd from inserting Henson midway through the first quarter for either Monroe (to run Henson with the starters for a few minutes) or Parker (to see if it can provide Monroe cover defensively).

To their credit, the Plums/Henson combination has worked: they're +10.8 points/100 with a 99.0 defensive rating in 65 minutes together, though they've also been bizarrely bad on the defensive boards (63.8% vs. 72.1% team average) and Henson is spending a ton of his time trying to check stretch fours that drag him away from the paint (related: lineups with the big duo allow a stunning 32 threes per 48 minutes). Maybe Henson's rigid minute distribution could be related to a broader attempt to figure out if he can play power forward, but that doesn't really explain why he's only playing with Plumlee.

Hawks Update

Last season's 60-win Hawks are largely remember as an offensive team, using coach Mike Budenholzer's Spursian system to harness the full power of a roster short on stars but long on offensive talent. So it might surprise many that the 14/15 squad actually finished sixth in both offensive and defensive efficiency, overcoming their lack of defensive rebounding by forcing tons of turnovers while weathering an NBA-high 25.8 opponent three point attempts per game (sound familiar?).

Fast forward to this season, and it's the offense which has regressed significantly (18th) while the defense has carried them during an up-and-down encore season. In case you haven't guessed it by those previously mentioned numbers, Atlanta's scheme bears more than a passing resemblance to the one that's fallen off dramatically this year in Milwaukee, underscoring that yes, an aggressive scheme can still work in the year 2016. Atlanta's defense has risen to second overall and been better than even the Spurs' defensive juggernaut since the calendar year started, ranking in the top five in forcing turnovers as well as opponent shooting percentage both inside and outside the arc. Zach Lowe explains:

The Hawks don't look the part a defense that could go stop-for-stop with San Antonio: no mammoth rim protector; a point guard with a flitty attention span; two aging wings coming off devastating injuries; and a would-be stopper who looks too skinny for the job.

But they have perhaps the best power forward-center duo in the league in Al Horford and Paul Millsap, and Budenholzer reconfigured his Popovichian defensive system around their speed. Atlanta unleashes its big men to trap ball handlers around the 3-point arc on the pick-and-roll, confident Horford and Millsap can corral those little guys -- and then scamper back toward their original assignments.

The goal: Pin those dudes along the sidelines, force them to pick up their dribble, and let the three Hawks behind the play lay in wait to steal the coming pass.

It's certainly working of late, as the Hawks have won nine of their last eleven and six of seven, most recently a 122-101 win over Washington that featured a season-best 17 Atlanta triples, with eight different Hawks hitting at least one three. Supersub Dennis Schröder led the way with 23 points (7/9 fg) and eight assists in just 20 minutes, reiterating why Jeff Teague may well be traded this summer. Also helping off the bench has been Tim Hardaway, who's finally finding his legs in Atlanta (17.8 ppg over last four) after being glued to the bench for the first half of the season.

On the Hawks: Peachtree Hoops

15/16 NBA Season
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(30-42, 9-28 road)
vs.
Atlanta hawks.vc71542f
(42-30, 23-13 home)
March 25, 2016
Phillips Arena | Atlanta, GA
7:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Jerryd Bayless PG Jeff Teague
Khris Middleton SG Kyle Korver
Jabari Parker SF Kent Bazemore
Giannis Antetokounmpo PF Paul Millsap
Greg Monroe C Al Horford
2015/16 Advanced Stats
94.0 (24th)
Pace 96.9 (9th)
104.7 (23rd)
ORtg 105.4 (18th)
108.5 (23rd)
DRtg 101.5 (2nd)