6th Fan Blogger: Bucks vs. Hawks
Eeney, Meeney, Miney, Mo
It's been a couple of weeks now since the Bucks, for all intents and purposes, were looking at the fifth or sixth seed in the playoffs, and a first-round meeting with either Boston or Atlanta. Milwaukee's seeding and first-found foe will likely remain unclear until the regular season's final day, giving me even more time to contemplate whether the Celtics or Hawks offer a more favorable match-up for the Bucks. After much internal deliberation that waffled back and forth for two weeks, I've come to the unsteady conclusion that I would like to see Milwaukee take on Atlanta in the first round.
There are a lot of reasons to want to play both of these teams, but for me, it ultimately came down to player personnel and individual match-ups. The Hawks may be younger than the Celtics, and may be a little hungrier, but I'm not convinced that Boston can't turn it on once the playoffs start. I know the Celtics haven't looked the same as in recent years, but they're about as healthy as they've been all season and could be playing with a chip on their shoulders.
I went down the Atlanta roster player by player and compared its team to Milwaukee's. I feel pretty good about this situation. I think the Bucks can give the Hawks a heck of a battle. Let's check out the match-ups:
Brandon Jennings vs. Mike Bibby: Bibby may have 11 years experience on Jennings, but he's aging quickly and averaging just 7.5 points against Milwaukee this year. This may be Jennings' first playoff series, but I think he's up for the challenge. He hasn't backed down from anybody all year, and I don't think he'll back down from the bright lights of the playoffs. Advantage: Milwaukee.
John Salmons vs. Joe Johnson: This could very well be the match-up that decides this series. Salmons has been great against the Hawks since joining the Bucks, averaging a robust 32 points a game on 59 percent shooting. But Johnson is a 4-time all-star who put up 25.5 points per game against Milwaukee this year. He has struggled in the postseason, though, averaging just 18.2 points on 41.3 percent shooting that last two years. If Salmons can come close to matching Johnson shot-for-shot, that will bode extremely well for the Bucks. Advantage: Atlanta, slightly.
Carlos Delfino vs. Marvin Williams: I like Delfino in this match-up. Williams has become a very nondescript part of the Atlanta rotation, offering little more than 10 points per game. Delfino offers outside shooting, defense, rebounding and a little bit of playmaking. His all-court game makes him a more valuable asset. Advantage: Milwaukee.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vs. Josh Smith: Smith has surprised many by having a breakout season this year, finally putting his immense talents to full use. While he can wreak havoc on both ends of the court, I can't shake the feeling that he's still a headcase who could implode in the playoffs. I think the Prince is just the kind of guy to cause that response, as his stellar defense play could frustrate Smith. At the end of the day, Smith's ability to fill up the box score pushes this battle in Atlanta's favor. Advantage: Atlanta.
Kurt Thomas vs. Al Horford: On paper, an all-star center going up against a 37-year-old center that has started less than 10 games seems like a major mismatch. I think Thomas keeps this match-up relatively close, though. He's a wily veteran who could unleash 14 years worth of tricks. Horford is the anti-Josh Smith, though, as his levelheaded mentality should allow him to remain focused. Advantage: Atlanta.
Milwaukee's Bench vs. Atlanta's Bench: Atlanta's bench might boast the likely 6th man of the year in Jamal Crawford, but it doesn't offer much else. And Crawford, who has played in exactly zero playoff games, is just as likely to shoot the Hawks out of the game as he is to shoot them in to the game. His lack of playoff experience leads me to believe we'll see more 3-of-14 games than 9-of-14 games. I think the trio of Luke Ridnour, Ersan Ilyasova and Jerry Stackhouse could potentially swing this series in Milwaukee's favor. Each has shown the ability to put up double digits on any given night, giving the Bucks a more well-rounded effort off the pine. Advantage: Milwaukee.
Preferring Atlanta over Boston is not to say the Hawks aren't a really good team, because they are. They're a very good team with a ton of talent that has likely learned a ton from their past two trips to the playoffs. But Boston's quartet of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo is a lot to overcome, even if they were all in their 40s, which is why I'd rather play Atlanta. But who knows, I could do a complete 180 at the conclusion of tonight's game.
- Danny G was out on the court getting a few shots up about 45 minutes prior to tip-off. Among these shot was a run of about six straight made three-pointers from the top of the key. They were absolutely pure. Seeing that, I couldn't help but think of this moment in time. If a 7-foot-7 Sudanese man can do it, why can't a 6-foot-11 Dutch man? Granted, Don Nelson generally offers a little more freedom than most coaches. But I don't see why Scott Skiles can't make this happen.
- Andrew Bogut made his triumphant return to the BC tonight and was met with an An-drew Bo-gut chant upon his arrival to the court. Bogut then provided an injury update just prior to tip-off, noting he'll begin rehab this week. He may not have been sporting the all-white suit that everyone is clamoring for, but it was good to see him back on the bench nonetheless.
- If the Bucks do meet the Hawks in the playoffs, Delfino needs to have a big series. For the second consecutive meeting, Atlanta has opened up with Johnson on Jennings and Bibby and Delfino. Delfino has a decided size and quickness edge over Bibby and needs to take advantage of it. Bibby is Atlanta's biggest defensive liability and needs to be exposed.
- The Brandon Jennings shoulder shrug is becoming a staple of Bucks basketball games. Every time he's whistled for a foul, he simply raises his shoulders and holds his hands out, palms up. He typically doesn't protest foul calls much more than that. A bewildered shoulder shrug is all Jennings needs to show his displeasure.
- The Bucks allowed way too many open looks in the first half. Players were losing their assignments and looking generally confused on defense, leading to numerous wide-open opportunities for Johnson, Bibby and other Hawks. Giving any NBA player four seconds to measure their shot is never a wise move.
- It looks like the pump fake is spreading like a wildfire through the Bucks locker room. Stackhouse dropped a serious pump fake in the second quarter, getting both Jeff Teague and Marvin Williams off their feet. A 2-for-1, if you will. It's becoming a full-blown epidemic, and I don't think anybody wants to be quarantined.
- I'm all about Fan Appreciation Night. I think it's great. What I don't think is great is playing the Golden Girls theme song during every break in action. I can all but guarantee I will have that jingle and Bea Arthur prancing through my head for the rest of the day. I can't think of two things I'd rather have in there less.
Closing It Out
These last two contests against Boston and Atlanta are a bit disconcerting. Both the Celtics (Kevin Garnett) and the Hawks (Jamal Crawford) were without key cogs, but managed to come into the BC and control a majority of their respective games. Granted, Milwaukee (Bogut) was without a key cog as well but, unfortunately, he's not coming back for the playoffs, while Garnett and Crawford will both likely be back in action. Making matters worse was another poor defensive effort. The Celtics tallied 105 points on Saturday night and the Hawks eclipsed the century mark as well with 104. The Bucks, as currently constructed, will lose a high percentage of games in which they allow 100 or more points.
Milwaukee took care of the ball on offense with only four turnovers, but they were forced into a lot of contested shots. There were too many possessions in which Salmons, Jennings or Stackhouse tried to go one-on-one. The Bucks just don't have the kind of players that can repeatedly go one-on-one and consistently get good shots. This is an offense that relies heavily on ball movement, and there wasn't enough of it tonight. Milwaukee will likely continue to shoot around 40 percent from the field unless they start to get more open looks.
Tonight's loss drops Milwaukee a game back of Miami for the fifth seed, meaning the Bucks will need to win Wednesday in Boston and the Heat will need to lose Wednesday at home to New Jersey. On a good note, Toronto woke up out of its slumber to down Detroit tonight, increasing the possibility of Milwaukee securing a lottery pick from Chicago in the upcoming draft. If the Raptors win their final game at home against New York, the Bulls will need to win their final two contests to capture the eighth seed and keep Milwaukee out of the lottery.Work hard. Play hard. Type hard.
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.