It was another dreadful start that cost the Bucks on Wednesday night, as a 16 point deficit to end the first quarter proved too much to come back from in Orlando. Eventually falling 117-126, it was arguably Milwaukee’s most insipid performance of the season. Tonight, they get an opportunity to avenge that loss, as they face the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks.
Losers in ten of their last twelve contests, the Hawks are right in the mix to receive the best odds at this years NBA draft lottery. They have only secured one victory against a playoff contender, the Indiana Pacers, since January, and the Bucks will look to capitalise.
The disappointing loss in Orlando has left the Bucks tied with Miami for the 8th seed, and two games back of the 6th seed Philadelphia 76ers. On speaking with the media on Thursday, as tweeted by Eric Nehm, Bucks veteran Jason Terry put the heat on the starting group to lift their improvement.
“They need to set the tone for us. They haven’t done that here the last couple of weeks and I think it’s about time.”
It was rare criticism on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the fellow starters, who have so often carried this team to victories along the way. In what is an extremely tight race for playoff seeding, it was a monumental slip up, in a game they were expected to win.
The Bucks have no new injuries to report from the last few days, Matthew Dellavedova is still expected to miss with no further updates on his progression from a serious ankle sprain suffered in early February. Atlanta on the other hand, have already shut down Kent Bazemore (bruised knee) for the season, while Malcolm Delaney (ankle), DeAndre Bembry (abdomen), and Antonius Cleveland are listed as out. In addition, question marks hang over Taurean Prince (nerve irritation) and Isaiah Taylor (back spasms), as they are listed as probable for the game.
It will be the third and final matchup between the two teams this season, with the Bucks wining the first two in the series. With just 14 games remaining before the playoffs, a victory is absolutely vital if Milwaukee stand any chance to climb to the 6th seed and beyond. Let downs like the one in Orlando can no longer be afforded, it’s time to knuckle down and take care of business.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Starting Dominance: It was touched on earlier, but the Bucks starters have been bad since the All-Star break. For so long a dominant group, they have faulted, and as a result, the Bucks have slumped to a 4-7 record since the mid season intermission. Frank Madden tweeted the specific numbers, and they don’t make for great reading. Pre All-Star break the starters were +110 in 379 minutes of court time. Post All-Star break they have racked up a -31 differential in just 129 minutes. For a team that has carried a struggling bench unit all season, it could be the load finally waring down the starters, or they are just in need of a wakeup call. Either way, the Bucks need them to figure it out, quickly.
- Hawk Killing Khash: Khris Middleton has had a career year across a number of categories, but despite this fact, he has still been an inconsistent performer. This has not been the case against the Atlanta Hawks so far this season. In two contests, Middleton is averaging 24 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, while knocking down 50 percent of his three-point attempts. Desperate for a steadying victory, Middleton delivering on those averages would be a welcome sight for Bucks fans.
- Slow Down Schroder: Over the course of the last two season, the Bucks have simply had no answer to Dennis Schroder. Across six games in that time frame, Schroder is averaging 19.6 points and 4.5 assists on a ridiculous 59 percent from beyond the arc. The Hawks may have little incentive to win, but this is the NBA, and as we seen the other night, anything can happen. If the Bucks let Schroder loose again, they may find themselves in a little bit of trouble.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus