With two games remaining before the All-Star break, the Milwaukee Bucks could be forgiven for believing the extended mid season break has come at the the worst possible time. Winners in eight of their last ten since Joe Prunty took the reigns, the Bucks have become one of the leagues form teams. After successfully navigating their way to a 3-1 road trip, they now face the languishing Atlanta Hawks at the Bradley Center.
After faltering in Miami on Friday night, the Bucks got back on track with a hard fought 111-104 victory in Orlando. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way as always with 32 points, but was ably assisted by the other stars of the Milwaukee offense. Khris Middleton finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists, while Eric Bledsoe had 18 points and 8 assists.
The Bucks battled to stay in the game through he first half before finding their groove in the third quarter thanks to veteran Jason Terry. The Jet had struggled all season with his shot until recently, as he finally begun to find the range. Since January 28th, Terry has gone 10-17 from beyond the arc to spark the second unit offense. Terry’s infectious personality has once again injected the bench squad with a shot of energy and potency rarely seen to this point.
The lottery bound Hawks present Milwaukee with a chance to do something they haven’t been able to do since February 20th 2015. Go eight games above .500 on the season. That year (Jason Kidd’s first as coach), the Bucks finished the season 41-41, before crashing out in six games to the Chicago Bulls. This season, the Bucks are aiming to much higher.
The lottery bound Hawks have won three of their last five and will come in to Milwaukee confident, after beating Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons two nights ago. The Hawks were led by two guys that were heavily involved in trade rumours before the deadline last Thursday. Dewayne Dedmon had 20 points and 13 rebounds, whilst former long time Buck, Ersan Ilyasova finished with 19 points of his own.
The Bucks will again be without big man John Henson as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Thon Maker looks set to start the game, being backed up by the newest member of the Milwaukee Bucks, Tyler Zeller. Finishing with 4 points and 8 rebounds against the Magic, Zeller played an important role for the Bucks in 22 minutes. The only Hawk on the injury list is rookie DeAndre’ Bembry, who is not expected to play with back soreness.
Milwaukee have been able to take care of business in a light stretch of the schedule despite the major move made to fire their head coach. The ability to adapt to the mid season change and stay focused on the task at hand has been impressive to say the least. Another lottery bound team is on tap, and the Bucks will need to continue to come prepared, in order not to waste what has been an excellent few weeks of basketball.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Do Not Look Ahead: The NBA season is a grind. 82 games, barely any time spent at home, mixed with the cold Milwaukee winters. The guys will be eagerly looking forward to having some time to relax and potentially escape the weather for a few days over the All-Star break. With the week off only days away, the Bucks must ensure they come ready to play and take care of business against a team they are expected to beat at home. The Hawks are dead last in the Eastern Conference, and are one of the favourites to secure the number one pick in this years NBA draft. Milwaukee are an impressive 18-9 at home, they must ensure they add to that tally tonight.
- Beware The Dedmon: As mentioned earlier, DeWayne Dedmon is in good touch. The 28 year old is averaging 10 points and 7.5 rebounds in only 23 minutes of play per game. Given the Bucks propensity to struggle against guys willing to go after it on the glass. They will need to be aware of Dedmon’s presence in the paint. As a member of the San Antonio Spurs, Dedmon finished with 10 points at 6 rebounds in only 14 minutes against the Bucks last season. He persistently put his body in the way of the Bucks bigs and was able to finish lobs and dunks on offense. His numbers won’t jump out at you, but he could prove dangerous if left alone.
- Turn Defense Into Offense: The Atlanta Hawks can be harassed into becoming sloppy with the ball. They rank in the bottom ten in the league for turnovers per game (15.4), opposition points off turnovers (17.1), and opposition fast break points (12.3). The Bucks length and ability to jump the passing lanes could provide easy buckets down the other end if they are prepared to push the ball in transition. Since Joe Prunty took the reigns, Milwaukee hold the leagues best defense with a rating of 97.7. They will again have a chance to further bolster a defense that has risen from the 25th ranked to the 14th in the space of ten games.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus