Posted by lethalweapon3 in lethalweapon3's Pre-Game Preview Blog, 30 March 2015 - · 12 views
As “Fernando Lamas” might put it, “It’s not whether you win. It’s how you look!”
It’s important for Hawks fans, especially the happily-paying ones filling up Philips Arena the rest of the way, to feel engaged by the home team. Winning will be cool, too. But keep us entertained, please!
Coming out on top in the remaining five home games, including tonight’s affair with the Milwaukee Bucks (7:30 PM Eastern, SportSouth, Fox Sports Wisconsin), is a worthy goal, considering that Atlanta winning every home game over the next few months would bring the NBA Finals to at least a Game 7. Further, being able to peer at the standings at the regular season’s end and finding a 60-ish-win Hawks team atop the East sure would be swell.
But more important is to see The Good Guys staying competitive with visiting opponents over the course of 48 minutes. Building up confidence and momentum as the Hawks head toward the playoffs’ first round is something the fans want to see, from one player to the next, from one play to the next.
“Looking good” was something the eggnog-logged Hawks did not do the last time the Bucks traipsed into Philips Arena after Christmastime, coach Jason Kidd fitting the Grinch role to a T. The 107-77 pasting by Milwaukee was the Hawks’ worst showing in their home building all season, shooting just 4-for-23 from three-point land while coughing up 22 turnovers, including 15 steals by the long-limbed Bucks.
Lethargic defense didn’t help either, as the Bucks shot 50.6% from the field, featuring Jared Dudley’s perfect game (10-for-10 FGs, plus a team-high four steals) off the bench. Including Saturday night’s deliberately-shorthanded loss to the Hornets, Atlanta is 3-11 when they allow opponents to make half of their shots. Hawks fans don’t necessarily need to enjoy a win tonight, but they do deserve to see winning plays on both ends of the court.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Milwaukee winds up being that first-round opponent for Atlanta. The Bucks (36-37) have won just three of their past 16 games, a slide that commenced with a home loss to Atlanta back on February 22. They’re looking at a Magic Number of 6 to clinch a postseason spot, and need to go 6-3 to finish with a winning record for the first time since Scott Skiles’ 2009-10 crew bedeviled the Hawks in the first round. Bucks fans know the 15-67 team from last season is a distant memory, but they’d like to top off this season with a playoff cherry.
Since prevailing in Toronto back on February 2, Milwaukee hasn’t pulled off a win in their past ten road games. That streak includes a triple-OT defeat in Brooklyn (boo!) in their last away game on March 20. If these Bucks can’t win away from home, is there a point to making the postseason as a lower seed?
Kidd has no interest in answering such shortsighted questions. He is out to remind people that his team has come a long way, and still has a long way to go no matter how this season ends. "It's something much bigger than that, that you guys are going to have to wait and write about," he advised Chicken-Little reporters recently. "We're here to build something, not to do something in six months. There's a bigger picture. We feel we have a core here that will be around for a long time and have success."
Still, after getting blown out by Golden State and Cleveland during last week’s homestand, Kidd knows he could use another victory in a top-notch opponent’s house to springboard his team into the final weeks of the NBA schedule.
The Bucks have won two of their past three. But one victory required a spirited 24-9 fourth-quarter comeback and a Khris Middleton buzzer-beater to fell an injury-hampered Miami team. The other required Ersan Ilyasova to go bonkers with a career-high 34 points to outpace the Pacers. Nagging injuries to veteran players haven’t helped matters. Dudley’s back hasn’t done right in the past two weeks, and he’ll sit out tonight after trying to play in the last two games. O.J. Mayo will give it a go despite having been hampered by a hammy strain for over a month.
Even with the depth-depleting injuries, it’s hard looking at the Bucks and not pinning their recent struggles on Michael Carter-Williams, the point guard who supplanted Brandon Knight on a stunning Trade Deadline Day. The Bucks’ leading scorer (13.4 PPG with Milwaukee) remains scattershot with his jumper (27.2 jumpshot FG%; 36.8 March FG% and 2-for-15 on threes this month).
But while MCW has been inconsistent from game-to-game as a passer (no double-digit assist tallies in 16 games, Milwaukee is 5-11 in those games), his assist-turnover ratio (5.4 APG, 3.3 TO/game) remains on-par with what Knight produced (5.4 APG, 3.2 TO/game) for the Bucks. Kidd is hitching his reputation to the idea that Milwaukee has the right floor general to lead his core into a bright future, if not the 2015 Playoffs.
MCW comes into today’s game hoping to provide inspired, and not distracted, contributions on the court. He flew to ATL after attending yesterday’s funeral in Massachusetts for his influential grandfather. In three games against the Hawks as a Sixer, Carter-Williams made 51.5% of his shots and averaged more rebounds (8.3 RPG) than assists (7.0 APG). He also turned the ball over a bunch (5.7 APG), including a season-high nine turnovers during an ugly game in Atlanta back on December 10.
Jeff Teague will probably play measured minutes during tonight’s contest, along with the other starters that sat out Saturday’s game in Charlotte. Whether it’s Teague, Dennis Schröder, or Shelvin Mack, Atlanta’s point guards have to keep Carter-Williams operating from the periphery of the Bucks’ offensive end. To neutralize his offensive talent, the restricted area should be just that for MCW. On offense, Schröder and Mack have struggled finding the hoop (7-for-22 combined shooting vs. Charlotte on Saturday), but continue carving up defenses with their passes (19 combined assists and 3 turnovers on Saturday).
With a post-All-Star offensive rating (96.0 points per 100 possessions) that’s worse than anybody aside from the Knicks and Sixers, the Bucks are only in games if they can find somebody with a hot hand and get him the ball. Usually, that go-to guy has been Middleton (17.6 post-All-Star PPG; 42.7 3FG% and 87.5 FT%). His shot gets hot-and-cold from one game to the next, but when he’s on he keeps the Bucks in the ballgame.
It’s a similar deal with Ilyasova, who shot just 1-for-10 FGs versus Golden State two days after his career scoring night. Ilyasova (career-high 18.0 points per-36, but career-low 65.2 FT%) has bounced back after a wretched 2013-14 season, and has transformed from a pull-up shooter to more of a catch-and-shoot player, but lacks Middleton’s defensive aptitude. He should be easily exploitable by either of Paul Millsap or DeMarre Carroll.
In his last seven games, Millsap has scored 20.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG and 1.9 SPG while shooting 51.8 FG%, 46.4 3FG%, and 90.0 FT%. Sap led the way with 23 points and 16 boards in Milwaukee last month, and was arguably the only Hawk that showed up to play during the Bucks’ last visit to Atlanta (22 points, 8-for-10 FGs, 10 rebounds).
The Bucks have the league’s highest turnover ratio (17.0 TOs per 100 possessions) since the Break, which can’t bode well against the Hawks team that leads the NBA post-All-Star with 18.0 opponent TO% while tying in the East with 19.1 points off turnovers.
The Hawks want to have Giannis Antetokounmpo (post-Break; 1.1 SPG, 1.4 BPG, team-high 7.4 RPG), Middleton and John Henson spending more of the energy on their hoofs cleaning up the Bucks’ goofs, rather than attacking on offense. Both the Bucks and tomorrow’s opponent, the Pistons (10.4 post-All-Star opponent fastbreak PPG, fewest in NBA) will put the efficacy of the Hawks’ transition offense to the test.
Forced once again to do way more than originally planned, Zaza Pachulia continues to come through for a team in desperate need for a positive veteran presence. He longed to get starter’s minutes for years in Atlanta and now, for the past two seasons, he’s got them, albeit by circumstance. The former Hawk has started in the last 17 games. While his overall shooting percentage this season is down from his Hawks heyday, since the All-Star break he’s shooting 47.5 FG% and 89.1 FT%, while averaging 3.5 offensive rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
Zaza’s trademark hustle remains on full display. He saved a missed shot headed out of bounds as time was expiring, and his heave from the corner set up Middleton’s moonshot over Miami last week, ending the Bucks’ six-game skid. Al Horford and Pero Antić will have their hands full keeping Z-Pac away from the ball at either end.
There’s a tiny bit of draft “strategery” associated with beating the Bucks. Atlanta’s second-round draft pick this summer goes to Milwaukee, courtesy of last year’s draft-day trade for 48th-pick Lamar Patterson, who toils away in Turkey. A few more wins by Atlanta would stick Milwaukee with the next-to-last (59th) pick in the second-round. Barring trades, the Hawks could pick at up to 11 spots ahead of the Bucks, thanks to the Lou-and-Bebe trade deal with Toronto. As demonstrated by Shelvin Mack, Mike Scott and Mike Muscala, the Hawks love developing second-rounders. As exemplified by starters Millsap and Kyle Korver, they also love rewarding them when they pan out.
Let’s Go Hawks!