Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 0-0
Atlanta Hawks (Mike Woodson) 0-0
Time: 4:30 PM (CST)
TV: ESPN and FS Wisconsin (Both HD)
I’ve done the individual match-ups a number of times this season, so I’ll refrain from going back there. But I would like to point out areas in which the Bucks will have to be above average and players who will have to really be on to stand a chance in game one (or two or…you get the picture).
Can Milwaukee unleash the hounds?
Unlike Mr. Burns, the Bucks have been unwilling to do so. Despite forcing turnovers frequently and often taking care of business on the defensive glass, the Bucks fast break game has been non-existent this season. Milwaukee was second to last in the NBA in fast break points at just 10.5 per game. Theoretically, it makes sense for Milwaukee to try and force the issue and beat the Hawks down the floor, given the lack of easy scoring opportunities without Andrew Bogut. Milwaukee has been slow or unwilling to adjust their offense when things haven’t been working though, so, unfortunately, it seems unlikely we’ll be seeing much of a rise in fast break points. Atlanta may limit opportunities any way. The Hawks are the NBA’s very best at avoiding turnovers, handing it over just 12 times a game.
Don’t let people “See Joe Dunk”
See Joe Dunk seems like it was years ago already, doesn’t it? Well, the Bucks clever tag line to try and persuade voters to vote for would be dunk contest participant Joe Alexander can be applied again, but to a more deserving Joe. Joe Johnson has been killing the Bucks this season. Johnson’s numbers: 27.3 ppg, 50 FG%, 53.8 3FG%, 6.3 RBS, 3.3 AST. And these are all in post-John Salmons games, so nothing has come easy for the Hawks star. He’s a helluva player and it’s obvious why he’s able to put up such good numbers. The Hawks realize he’s their meal ticket and treat him so offensively. Johnson ranked third in the NBA this season in isolation possessions with 603 behind only Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony. He averaged .88 points per play on those possessions, but it sure felt like he was averaging at least two points every time he’s had a Bucks defender one on one with him. If Milwaukee can hold Johnson to a respectable field goal percentage, their chances of winning increase significantly.
Bigger may be better
Small ball is fun to say. The words rhyme and the idea is certainly fun. Throw a bunch of guards and forwards on the court and it’ll lead to running and gunning, lots of points and generally a good time like the Suns have had for so many years. But that’s not really the case. The Bucks are still going to play their style, just with smaller players. And the Hawks can match small lineups with the best of them. Their versatility one through five makes them a team that’s nearly impossible to go small on. After the game last Monday, Coach Skiles indicated that he was frustrated with his team’s inability to control the game, he said something to the effect that the Bucks were always playing Atlanta’s game. That may be because Atlanta has so many games. Milwaukee will need to play to their strengths and their guards and wings aren’t a significant source of strength over the Hawks. Small ball doesn’t appear to be the answer against the Hawks.
On the podcast, unanimously Frank, Alex and I agreed that Brandon Jennings was the Bucks X-Factor. At the outset of the season, everyone got the feeling that Jennings shined in big moments. He seemed to have a sense of when his team really needed him and showed a knack for making the big shot when it mattered most. Then he lost his way. Honestly, it’s difficult for me to recall the last time Jennings took a shot in a huge spot and I knew it was going down. The Kings game was a bright spot, and he was on fire that night so I’ll go with that game. But those performances have been few and far between since November.
The playoffs though, are a whole different animal. The playoffs bring out the best and worst in the world’s elite basketball players. It’s a slippery slope for a rookie to navigate, but Jennings has been succeeding in doing that type of thing all year. It’s difficult to expect any rookie to come in and make a name for himself in his very first playoff series, but if anyone can, you get the feeling that Jennings can. His demeanor and confidence will do him well in this first series. And the better it does for him, the better it does for the Bucks.
Jennings told Tom Enlund of the Journal-Sentinel: “You just might see me play basketball. I might not say a word when I’m out there. I might just keep playing. If I don’t get a call, I’ll just keep running back down the court. Just get up and keep playing.”
But we can all only hope that’s not the case. It’s precisely that emotion and chirping that often gets the Bucks going. Getting in the face of a much bigger Glen Davis or coming to show he has Andrew Bogut’s back against Steve Blake served as miniature windows into the psyche of this team. Jennings has shown that he’s out there to fight with his teammates and not just for himself. This is a unified Bucks team, looking to upset the Hawks together And Jennings emotion is at the forefront of that.