Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 38-30
Atlanta Hawks (Mike Woodson) 45-24
Time: 7:00 (CST)
TV: FS Wisconsin
Brandon Jennings vs. Mike Bibby
Two guys heading opposite ways. Bibby was the table setter and clutch leader for the Kings in their heyday and helped get the Hawks over the hump when they were without a point guard for so many years. But father time appears to have caught up with the former Arizona great. Jamal Crawford has more or less usurped him as the fifth Hawk and Joe Johnson handles the play-making role often. But Bibby still cannot be left alone when he’s out there; he’s shooting .535 from three in the month of March and nearly 40% on the season. Jennings is shooting a respectable .412 from the field in March and a spectacular .490 from three after nearly everyone had written him off as relevant.
John Salmons vs. Joe Johnson
Johnson gave Salmons fits down the stretch in Atlanta, but it’s not like he wasn’t hitting tough shots. Johnson is a star and plays like one. Salmons has been masquerading as a star himself lately, icing the game at the free throw line on Saturday and giving the Bucks breathing room Friday. Salmons defensive efforts on Tyreke Evans, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony were all stellar, if he can duplicate his efforts against Atlanta, it’d go a long way towards stopping the Hawks. Johnson spent some time on Jennings in Atlanta and it worked out pretty spectacularly for the Hawks. I’d expect to see some more of that in Milwaukee.
Carlos Delfino vs. Marvin Williams
Williams scored 20 or more points for just the third time this season in the Hawks overtime win over San Antonio on Sunday. He’s more about defense and hustle than he is about scoring, but I’m still amazed that Delfino has more 20 point games. I suppose that speaks to the balance of the Hawks as much as it speaks about the deficiencies in Williams’ game, but I thought he’d be much better than this anyway. I’d actually rather have Delfino than Williams in the here and now. I know that sounds homerish and borderline insane given my distaste for ‘Los earlier this year, but Delfino is a better rebounder, passer and shooter. Given that we’re five years into 30 mpg for Williams, I don’t see that changing much either.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vs. Josh Smith
Smith is a nightmare for the Bucks. He’s quick, athletic, a helluva shot-blocker and causes matchup problems wherever he goes. Having him lurking on the weak side makes every shot near the rim a challenge. It’s tough to go right at him either, because Mbah a Moute is so limited offensively. LRMAM has lost some playing time to Ersan Ilyasova lately as Ers has been a better matchup, but Mbah a Moute might get some more minutes tonight. Neither of them are a great matchup for Smith, but Mbah a Moute has the quickness to stick with him on the perimeter. Smith has cut out the threes, but he still loves to penetrate.
Andrew Bogut vs. Al Horford
An image that still resides in my head from the last Hawks-Bucks game was that of Bogut attempting a shot as the game was winding down and Horford completely snuffing it out. Horford’s tough. Bogut’s had his struggles of late, so hopefully a home crowd will rejuvenate anything that ails him, but Horford won’t make anything easy on him. These two are more or less going to cancel each other out, but part of me still thinks Bogut may be able to get it going so long as he hits his first few shots.
Jerry Stackhouse, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Ridnour and Kurt Thomas
Jamal Crawford, Joe Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Maurice Evans
A strong game against Denver was a saving grace after struggles in L.A. and Sacramento for the Bucks bench. Ilyasova has had it going recently and Ridnour played well in Denver, but Stackhouse has been MIA the last three. If the Bucks want long-term success this year, they’ll have to find a way to get more from Stack. The Hawks ride their four starters pretty hard and Crawford is typically their fifth guy. He’s going to the playoffs for the first time in his life this year and has played like a guy who’s seen enough losing. He can get hot, think Jennings mixed with Salmons when Crawford is on. The rest of the Hawks bench is mainly there to be serviceable and they succeed at that.
Prediction: Bucks 97 – Hawks 92
Milwaukee fought hard and lost a close on the road to Atlanta at the end of February, so why can’t they flip the script when the Hawks come to town? Jennings struggled against the Hawks defense and Ridnour played well enough to earn the call down the stretch, but given Jennings stellar play of late, he could be the lift that the Bucks need to take down the Hawks. Either way, expect a close game, expect some chippiness at some point and expect some playoff type basketball. These teams could be seeing a lot more of each other in the next month.