Hawks host Bucks with both Eastern Conference finalists floundering

By Sports Desk November 13, 2021

Less than five months have passed since the Milwaukee Bucks faced the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks advanced in six games and went on to win the NBA title, but the Hawks' surprise run meant the 2020-21 season was one both teams could reflect fondly on.

However, the early indications are 2021-22 will not be counted in the same category.

While there is a long way left to go in this campaign, the two teams enter Sunday's first regular-season meeting both below the playoff line. The Bucks are 6-7, while the Hawks have regressed significantly to 4-9.

Milwaukee can at least point to personnel issues. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – their three main men – have so far shared just 21 minutes on the court.

Antetokounmpo is on course for an unprecedented fourth straight season averaging 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game but sat out of Friday's defeat to the Boston Celtics after spraining his ankle.

"He's kind of tested it a little bit twice today and he's just not able to go," coach Mike Budenholzer said before that game. "I know he'll get treatment, he'll probably get a lift, he'll do everything he can to get back as soon as possible."

Those words do not indicate an immediate return, even if he was originally listed as "probable" to play. Middleton has been out due to coronavirus but may return against the Hawks.

These mitigating factors are not available to Atlanta. They have named the five-man lineup that started their playoff run – prior to De'Andre Hunter's knee injury – on 11 occasions.

The Hawks should look to make the most of playing the short-handed champions and get their season back on track.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young

Young will not be short of motivation for this one. He scored 48 points in Game 1 against the Bucks, almost single-handedly winning the series opener as he attempted 34 field goals – the third-most by any player in a single game in the 2020-21 postseason – as well as contributing 11 assists.

But a combination of form and fitness then deserted the breakout star of the playoffs. He had just 15 points in Game 2, before rebounding with 35 in Game 3, only to suffer a foot injury that kept him out of the next two. Young returned with 23.5 per cent field goal shooting in Game 6 as Milwaukee sealed the series.

Atlanta's reliance on Young to both score and create became a real issue when he was faced with elite defense, forcing nine turnovers in Game 2 alone. He has a point to prove now.

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday

The source of that elite defense was Holiday, who had scored 33 points in Game 1 but allowed Young too much space on the other side of the ball. The Bucks point guard quickly addressed that issue.

Holiday teamed up with Brook Lopez to effectively shut down Young, striking the right balance between aggressive defense and keeping a dangerous opponent away from the foul line; he attempted 12 free throws in Game 1 alone but only returned to the line 16 more times in the whole series.

An excellent display in Game 6 saw Holiday contribute 27 points, nine assists, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks, offset only slightly by six turnovers. It is this sort of performance that will be required on Sunday. With Antetokounmpo and Middleton doubts, Holiday will have to drive Milwaukee on offense while being careful not to give Young free rein at the other end.

KEY BATTLE – Could Capela dominate?

It is not only the big names that have been missing for the Bucks, but also the big men. Lopez has not featured since the opening night of the season due to a back issue, while the absence of Antetokounmpo, who can play the five, deals a further blow to Milwaukee's depth.

Bobby Portis is set to line up against Clint Capela, who will expect to dominate his opponent on the boards, with 11.2 rebounds per game this year – a mark only Antetokounmpo on the Bucks' roster can top.

Capela has already been key for Atlanta in limiting the damage during their poor run. The Hawks's 110.1 defensive rating is the third-worst in the league, but that improves to 108.7 with Capela on the floor, by far the best rating of the team's regular starters.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Hawks might have taken the Bucks to six games in the playoffs, but this has been a series Milwaukee have dominated. Including that 4-2 Eastern Conference Finals victory, they are 16-4 in the teams' past 20 meetings. Atlanta won the opening playoff game by three but then lost four of the following five by double digits.

The Bucks have a 114-112 edge all-time in the regular season.

Related items

  • Neville hits out at 'desperate' Man Utd transfer strategy amid Arnautovic links Neville hits out at 'desperate' Man Utd transfer strategy amid Arnautovic links

    Gary Neville launched a scathing attack on Manchester United's transfer strategy after their 2-1 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, labelling the Red Devils "desperate" amid reports linking them with Marko Arnautovic.

    United began the Erik ten Hag era in dismal fashion on Sunday as Pascal Gross' double condemned them to an opening-day defeat to the Seagulls.

    The result made Ten Hag the first United boss to lose his first Premier League game at the helm since Louis van Gaal did so against Swansea City in August 2014.

    With wantaway striker Cristiano Ronaldo starting on the bench and fellow forward Anthony Martial injured, United struggled to test a resolute Brighton rearguard and only pulled a goal back when Alexis Mac Allister put through his own net.

    In the aftermath of United's defeat, widespread reports suggested they had a £7.6million (€9m) bid for Bologna's 33-year-old forward Arnautovic rejected.

    United have also failed to entice top target Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona thus far, and Neville did not hold back when discussing the club's recruitment.

    "The first thing you do when the phone rings from Manchester United is reject the bid, because the reality of it is after losing that game against Brighton on Sunday, they're actually negotiating from an even worse position than they were on Saturday, and that's an even bigger problem for them," the former United defender said on Sky Sports.

    "I've got a comment on everything in the world, apart from Manchester United signing Marko Arnautovic. I've got nothing to say.

    "We've seen Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edison Cavani, Odion Ighalo - desperate, it's a pattern. 

    "It's happening time and time again. I don't even get angry or animated about it anymore. I'm not going to comment about it."

    Micah Richards was also unimpressed by the potential acquisition of Arnautovic, adding: "What has happened to Manchester United, seriously? I'm not going to stick the boot in. Arnautovic was a quality player, but he's 33 playing in Italy."

    After playing in the Premier League for Stoke City and West Ham, Arnautovic spent two years in China with Shanghai Port before moving to Bologna – for whom he scored 14 Serie A goals last season – in 2021.

    In his post-match media conference, Ten Hag declined to mention Arnautovic by name, only lamenting the unavailability of the strikers in his squad, with Ronaldo limited to a substitute appearance.

    "I don't go into names because I think in this pre-season 250 players are involved or linked with Manchester United, so that's it," Ten Hag said. "We have two strikers, maybe a third one, with Marcus Rashford as well.

    "We considered him as a striker, but he had a really good pre-season on the left side and today he had two really good chances coming in from the left side.

    "So I think it was the right decision to do it like this, the typical number nine wasn't available today."

  • India spinners rip through Windies to secure 4-1 series win India spinners rip through Windies to secure 4-1 series win

    Ravi Bishnoi claimed career-best Twenty20 International figures as India thrashed West Indies by 88 runs in Fort Lauderhill to win the series 4-1.

    Shreyas Iyer top scored with 64 off 40 balls and Deepak Hooda made 38 as India posted 188-7 in the final match of the series in Florida on Sunday, 

    The Windies were skittled out for 100 in reply, with all 10 wickets falling to spinners for the first time in a T20I.

    Bishnoi took 4-16, while Axar Patel (3-15) and Kuldeep Yadav (3-12) also capitalised on West Indies' batting frailties as Shimron Hetmyer (56) scored over half of their runs.

    India were not fazed by losing Ishan Kishan early on, Iyer and Hooda putting on 76 for the second wicket to put them on course to an imposing total.

    Iyer finally fell to Jason Holder after Hayden Walsh saw the back of Hooda, but captain Hardik Pandya made a brisk 28 before he was run out by Odean Smith.

    Smith (3-33) claimed his third scalp by sending Axar (9) packing in the final over, but the Windies were soon in big trouble in the run chase.

    Axar bowled Holder for a duck with the third ball of the innings before getting Shamarh Brooks (13) stumped and the tweaker also cleaned up Devon Thomas (10) in the fifth over.

    Kuldeep stepped up to remove West Indies skipper Nicholas Pooran, reducing the Windies to 50-4, before Bishnoi trapped Rovman Powell (9) and Keemo Paul (0) lbw with successive balls.

    Hetmyer was running out of partners as the procession of wickets continued, with the left-hander falling to Bishnoi, who then finished off the job by getting Obed McCoy caught in the deep.

    India put Windies in a spin

    Bishnoi was outstanding as the Windies failed a trial by spin, with Axar and Kuldeep also tormenting Pooran's side.

    The excellent Bishnoi took four wickets for the first time in the shortest format at international level, ending the series on a high note.

    Iyer shows his class

    With such competition for places in a T20 World Cup year, Iyer gave another exhibition of his class.

    He struck two sixes and another eight boundaries, setting India on their way to a total that was far too many for the Windies.

  • 'There's nothing to it' - Bayern chief Salihamidzic rubbishes Sane to Man Utd rumours 'There's nothing to it' - Bayern chief Salihamidzic rubbishes Sane to Man Utd rumours

    Bayern Munich sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic insists speculation linking winger Leroy Sane with a move to Manchester United is wide of the mark.

    Reports have suggested the Premier League club enquired about the availability of the Germany international, who spent four years in England with United's cross-city rivals Manchester City between 2016 and 2020.

    Sane scored 25 goals in 90 Premier League appearances for the Citizens before moving back to Germany in order to join Bayern, where he has won two Bundesliga titles in two seasons.

    Bayern left Sane out of their starting eleven for a 6-1 thrashing of Eintracht Frankfurt in their Bundesliga opener on Friday, but Salihamidzic says the 26-year-old is not going anywhere.

    When questioned regarding a potential transfer for Sane, Salihamidzic told Sky90: "There's nothing to it.

    "Leroy is an important player for us, so there's nothing to tell."

    Sane provided an assist for Jamal Musiala after entering the fray 65 minutes into Bayern's thrashing of last season's Europa League winners, as the Bavarian giants started the Bundesliga season with an emphatic success.

    The former City winger scored seven goals and added seven assists in the Bundesliga last campaign, with only Thomas Muller (eight), Serge Gnabry (14) and the since-departed Robert Lewandowski (35) netting more league goals than Sane.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.