The Atlanta Hawks were able to close a long road trip with a victory over the Utah Jazz, but it feels safe to say that everyone in the organization is happy to be back in Atlanta, especially given the opponent on Thursday night. The Milwaukee Bucks will be in the visitor's locker room at Philips Arena, and aside from the disastrous Philadelphia 76ers, the Bucks are playing some of the least inspired basketball in the NBA.
As evidence to their troubles this season, Milwaukee enters with the league's worst record (yes, worse than the Sixers) at 13-51, and they are just 5-25 away from the state of Wisconsin. In terms of specifics, the Bucks are in the bottom-5 in both offense (99.1 points per 100 possessions) and defense (107.7 points per 100) this season, and while there is some real talent on the roster at certain positions, the pieces haven't fit together effectively.
The Hawks are now fully healthy (with the obvious exception of one Al Horford), and the team enters Thursday night's action while clinging to a modest lead over the Pistons, Knicks, and Cavs for the 8th spot. Obviously, the recent stretch of disastrous results stemmed from a complete lack of healthy bodies, but with the "A"-team back on the floor consistently, Atlanta remains a significant favorite to make the playoffs, and that march can begin in earnest with a solid effort here.
Milwaukee arrives with direct tie-ins to the Hawks, as former head coach Larry Drew occupies the bench for the Bucks, while Zaza Pachulia is now healthy for the first time to face off against his former squad. For both guys, it is their first trip to Philips as a member of the opposition since their departure, and while I'm confident that Zaza (who was long a fan favorite in Atlanta) will receive a hefty ovation, it'll be interesting to see how the Atlanta crowd treats Drew.
Lastly, the match-up to watch in this game is probably at the point guard spot. The Bucks turned to Brandon Knight after Jeff Teague's offer sheet was matched by the Hawks in the off-season, and Knight has likely been the best player for Milwaukee this season, averaging 17.4 points and 5.0 assists with a solid 16.9 PER. Teague has had well-documented troubles with consistency, and he is in a bit of a lull at the moment, shooting just 32.5% (13 for 40) from the field in the last 4 games. The Hawks can win the game even if Teague struggles, but if he can out-play Knight, Milwaukee will be in a difficult spot.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, March 13, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM