The last time the Atlanta Hawks (17-25) and Milwaukee Bucks played, something great came out of it for both teams. Atlanta got the win and kicked off a seven-game winning streak that was doubly sweet since it immediately followed a six-game skid. Their record was 11-9 after that streak but they haven’t even been .500 for over a month.
For Milwaukee, the loss came just before an eight-game win streak, shaking off a 6-8 start to the season.
Ahead of their matchup on Monday, both should want a similar outcome.
For the Hawks, mired in a five-game slide and without a win on their home floor since Nov 22, it’s a chance to prove the talent is still there. The Bucks have lost three of their last four and five of the last seven.
Here is how the Atlanta Hawks can steal another win against the defending champs
In all seriousness, the Hawks need to tighten up several things if they are going to get this season back on track. There are some fairly simple things they can do to pull off the upset but even those could prove difficult for this team right now. The Hawks have dealt with issues on both ends of the floor lately.
They’ve been especially brutal in late-game, and namely clutch, situations during this current downturn.
First, the Hawks must force Giannis Antetokounmpo to be a jump shooter. He’s averaging 28.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists though he is slashing just .539/.281/.712 from the floor. His free-throw efficiency is the highest that it’s been in three years but his field goal and three-point numbers are at their lowest in three and four years, respectively.
He can still be the focal point, though. The Bucks are just 7-6 when Giannis takes at least 20 field goal attempts. Four of those six losses came in games where Giannis attempted five or more threes.
Antetokounmpo is shooting just 34.6 percent on pull-ups overall and 26.1 percent on pull-up triples.
That can be a bit of a chicken or the egg situation which brings us to the next way they can neutralize him and the Bucks, foul trouble. His plus-13.6 on-off differential is second behind only Jrue Holiday – who is out for Monday’s contest – on the team. Foul trouble isn’t just about him though as they are 12-5 in games where he has four or more fouls.
They have to get into the teeth of the Bucks bench.
While Milwaukee’s starters are posting a league-high 84.4 points per game, their reserve unit currently ranks 29th at 27.2 points per game.
Atlanta’s starters are ninth while their bench is 21st.
Over the last five games, that advantage (on paper) has grown with the Bucks bench ranking dead-last and the Hawks 11th while both starting units have plummeted; Atlanta to 24th but the Bucks all the way to 20th without Holiday.
Without an initiator like Holiday, it could make it easier to sit on one of Milwaukee’s strengths, the corner three.
Specifically, the left corner three.
They currently rank fourth in threes attempted from the corners but rank just 16th in efficiency thanks to shooting just 35.9 percent from the right side. They’re shooting 40.9 percent on the left side of the floor. That takes them from 22nd on the right, just one spot better than the Hawks, to third on the left which is four spots above Atlanta.
The Hawks are stingy on the corners, ranking fifth in defensive efficiency. Yes, the Bucks are better, even in this. But the Hawks attempt the seventh-fewest corner threes in the NBA.
It also helps that Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton (39.5 3P%) is in a slump.
Atlanta will be without Bogdan Bogdanovic and Clint Capela. The duo combined for 18 points, 17 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals, though the former shot poorly the last time these two met up. Khris Middleton missed a 120-100 Hawks win.
Trae Young had 42 points and 10 assists and fell just two rebounds short of a triple-double while going 8-for-13 from beyond the arc in that contest.
And, of course, they battled for six games in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Even taking these steps, there is no guarantee the Hawks will win if they keep playing uninspired defense and struggling to score late in games. But this could go a long way to keeping those bugaboos from being issues at all in this one.