Atlanta at Milwaukee
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: MIL -6.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The seeds are starting to firm up in the Eastern Conference, and the Atlanta Hawks at 37-34 trail the No. 4 Toronto Raptors by 5.5 games, unlikely to ascend to a top-4 spot in the East, with just 10 Hawks’ games remaining on the schedule.
The Milwaukee Bucks trail Atlanta by just a game, though, and could easily take that No. 5 spot to avoid a first-round matchup with the red-hot Washington Wizards. That must be a goal for Milwaukee, who enters the game as 6.5 point favorites at home tonight at 7 PM (CT) on NBA TV.
Milwaukee, by and large, must count this plus-.500 season (if it is to be one) as something of a success. The Bucks lost Khris Middleton for the majority of the season, but he is back and playing well now. The problem is that during that time they also watched second-year forward Jabari Parker tear his ACL again, ending his season and casting a major dark cloud over what seemed to be a promising career.
Even with those injuries, Milwaukee has compiled a 36-35 record and has a lot of promising pieces in place, not the least of which is All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo. “The Greek Freak” has all the makings of a future Hall of Famer, a perennial All-Star, a franchise player—whatever appellations you may choose.
He has led the Bucks in every major statistical category and is a player capable of dominating on both ends of the court.
More could be said about Giannis, perhaps entire tomes on the matter, but he is the transcendental talent that has made the Bucks season the quasi-success it has been. Milwaukee has won eight of its past 10 games heading into tonight’s contest, while the Hawks have dropped five straight and seven of its past 10. This is a collision between a team heating up at the right time in Milwaukee, and a Hawks team that is falling apart as the playoffs get ready to fire up. Can Atlanta climb out of its slumber to beat Milwaukee at home? The Bucks have compiled a record of 20-16 at home this season.
Atlanta made the foolish decision to part ways with Kyle Korver, and the Hawks have hardly gelled with its new starting trio of Dennis Schroder, Dwight Howard, and Paul Millsap. All three have played well, but that synergistic effect the Hawks achieved two seasons ago when it won 60 games under head coach Mike Budenholzer has hardly been recreated.
Atlanta has looked patently mediocre this season, as many have come to expect from the Hawks on an annual basis. Atlanta is 18-17 on the road this season, but the Hawks have lost their past three on the road and have not won away from Atlanta since a 107-90 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Millsap has hardly been to blame, and the Hawks have been relatively pleased with the progress of Schroder as a starter. Dwight Howard has not taken on a much larger role than he did in Houston, and that is a bit of a surprise as many expected him to re-emerge to something close to what he was in Orlando (or at least a lot of analysts did, perhaps “many is a stretch). Howard is attempting just 8.0 field goals per game and hitting 63.2 percent of those. He is good for 12.8 boards and 2.21 blocks/steals per game, but this declined version of Howard may be as good as we will see for the remainder of his NBA career.
That is hardly good new for the Hawks, but they can focus their efforts on finding complementary pieces to fit with Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr, who appear to be Atlanta’s starting backcourt of the future.
Atlanta is not much a threat to any of the top teams in the East this year, but with the right adjustments this offseason they could begin to form a new nucleus because there is some decent talent still in A-Town.