On this chilly January morning, most Wisconsin sports fans are gearing up for the Packers’ second-round matchup against Dallas. Not you, though. You’re here, with us, getting ready for the Milwaukee Bucks’ clash with the mighty(?) Atlanta Hawks, knowing that what happens on the hardwood is far more interesting than the gridiron goings-on.
Or maybe you’ll dip out of the Bucks game midway through the third quarter because of the NFL Playoffs. Either way, it’s all good.
The Bucks followed up a gutsy win against San Antonio by taking care of business (h/t Frank Madden) against a flailing Miami Heat team, where six Bucks posted double-digit scoring numbers, and Giannis Antetokounmpo continued to be sick:
With Giannis’ recent illness having seemingly passed, the Bucks also have largely recovered from their recent wave of injuries, with Michael Beasley, Miles Plumlee, and Rashad Vaughn all appearing to be fully available. Khris Middleton remains the only Buck on the injury report.
For Milwaukee, every remaining game against an Eastern Conference opponent is going to matter for their playoff seeding; having already lost the season series to Washington (currently 20-19, and right behind the Bucks at the 6th seed), Jason Kidd will need to have everyone locked in if the hope is to maximize the team’s chances at a mid-tier seed in April. Of course, this season has already shattered expectations (in a good way!), so any playoff exposure this year is gravy, which is a pretty comfortable place for a franchise to be.
On the flip side, Atlanta is a team very much in flux for a number of reasons. Currently sitting in the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference, one could assume that they’re priming for another playoff appearance. Those playoff chances, as it stands in the current Eastern Conference, are anything but a guarantee. With a heartbreaking loss against Boston (currently in the 3rd seed), it appears that the Hawks may have reached their ceiling for this season.
But with the recent rumors surrounding Paul Millsap’s trade availability (currently off the block), Tim Hardaway Jr’s availability (currently unknown) and the recent trade of Kyle Korver, it’s difficult to ascertain what exactly the team wants to do. Do they want to dump players for assets? Do they want to keep things together for the playoffs this season? Was trading Korver (a beloved Hawk) a move to improve their chances now?
Because of those unanswered questions, this may turn out to be a pivotal game for the Atlanta Hawks, not for just the season but the franchise. A loss to Milwaukee drags them further into the muck of the Eastern Conference's middle class (and could change their trade deadline calculus), while a win helps solidify their status as the top non-elite team in the East...and strengthens their resolve to keep the current band together beyond February.
The Hawks are without Tiago Splitter (hamstring) and new arrival (and former Buck) Mo Williams, who never really was going to play this season regardless.