With a slim lead over several teams for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks need to come away with victories against struggling opponents.

The Hawks squandered one of those opportunities their last time out, but they'll try to bounce back Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks as they open a three-game homestand against three of the worst teams in the East.

Atlanta (30-40) is in eighth place in the East, but that could change very quickly. The Hawks are just a half-game ahead of ninth-place New Jersey, 1 1/2 games up on 10th-place Indiana and two in front of 11th-place Chicago.

Atlanta could have put a significant dent in the Bulls' playoff hopes on Tuesday, but lost 103-94 at the United Center.

The Hawks, who had won four of five, trailed by 16 points in the third quarter before pulling within two with just over six minutes to play, but could get no closer.

"It's a big disappointment. It just seems like we didn't have the energy tonight,'' Atlanta's Joe Johnson said. "We came out lackadaisical."

The Hawks have not made the playoffs since 1999, and they now need to take advantage of a favorable homestand to ensure they hold the eighth spot.

After this game, Atlanta looks to avenge Tuesday's loss as the Bulls come to town on Friday, followed by a visit from stumbling New York on Sunday.

The Hawks are just 4-4 against their next three opponents, however, and have dropped two of three to Milwaukee. Their only win over the Bucks was a 96-80 victory on Nov. 28 at Philips Arena, where the Hawks have won five of their last seven.

The Bucks (24-45), meanwhile, have lost six straight road games by an average of 14.5 points, and 13 of their last 14 away from the Bradley Center.

Johnson finished with just 15 points on Tuesday after scoring 34 in Saturday's 98-90 win over Southeast Division-leading Orlando. Johnson, who leads the Hawks in scoring at 21.5 points, is averaging just 15.7 points on 37.8 percent shooting versus the Bucks this season.

Milwaukee has lost 10 of its last 12 games, and is coming off another disappointing defeat.

After an impressive 108-98 victory over Cleveland on Saturday, the Bucks looked horrible in Monday's 78-73 loss to lowly Miami. Milwaukee shot just 35.5 percent and committed 20 turnovers.

"We just kind of went through the motions and thought it was going to be easier than it was,'' Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said.

Charlie Villanueva had another rough outing on Monday, finishing with just five points on 2-of-11 shooting. He is averaging 5.0 points on 22.2 percent shooting in his last two games after averaging 20.4 points on 44.7 percent shooting in his previous seven.

Andrew Bogut had another strong game, though, in his second game back after missing two with a thigh injury. Bogut had 16 points and 17 rebounds against the Heat, and is averaging 16.5 points and 14.8 boards in his last four games. He is averaging 20.0 points and 10.3 rebounds versus the Hawks this season.


Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited