Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview: Nov. 16 at Atlanta Hawks

The Milwaukee Bucks face a tough Atlanta Hawks team on the road after several days of rest. Can they overcome a surefire playoff squad?

Mar 25, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) drives against Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) in the third quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 101-90. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t look now, but the Milwaukee Bucks are currently the sole possessor of the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Of course playoff standings are pretty meaningless in the middle of November, but the Bucks have been pretty good so far.

They’ll have a challenge awaiting them on Wednesday night, as the team heads to Atlanta to take on the high-flying Hawks. The Hawks might have their wings clipped from the jump though, as Dwight Howard tweaked his quad on Tuesday night and could miss this game.

The Hawks have been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA thus far, and they’ll be a tough team to beat even without Dwight. Mike Budenholzer is one of the Association’s very best coaches, and his teams come prepared every time they take the floor.

Wednesday will be no exception. As the Bawks meet up for the first time in 2016,17, what will the major keys be for both teams, and who’s most likely to come out on top? As usual, we have all that information and more.

Nov 12, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha (25) battles with Philadelphia 76ers forward Richaun Holmes (22) for a loose ball during the first half at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 117-96. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Milwaukee: Take Care Of The Ball

The Atlanta Hawks are looking like Sly Cooper so far–they’ve swiping everything in sight. The Hawks are third in the NBA in steals, and have racked up 10.6 steals per game.

That starts (but doesn’t end) with Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha is second in the NBA in steals so far–only Chris Paul is ahead of him in both total steals and steals per game. Sefolosha has proved he can come back better than ever from injury, even when that injury is inflicted by police officers.

Thabo isn’t the only Hawk with sticky fingers. His 2.6 steals leads Atlanta, but Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Kyle Korver all average at least one steal per game too. The only Hawk in the starting five who doesn’t get a steal per game is point guard Dennis Schroder.

The Bucks have made cutting down on turnovers an emphasis this season. That’s going to be tested in a huge way against Atlanta. Whichever team wins this battle has a good chance to win the game,

The Hawks defense is great besides merely looking at steal numbers, but if Milwaukee can manage to avoid turning the ball over they should be able to make Atlanta sweat on that end, especially if Dwight ends up sitting out.

Nov 5, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Mirza Teletovic (35) reacts after scoring a 3-point basket in the second quarter during the game against the Sacramento Kings at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Teletovic scored 22 points to help the Bucks beat the Kings 117-91. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Atlanta: Defend The Arc

The Bucks can’t win games without a boost from their perimeter shooting. The Hawks best asset is their defense, and Milwaukee will test and see just how good it is. The Bucks offense is basically two-pronged right now.

First, there’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker trying to cause havoc inside the arc, although both have been shooting threes this season. Even if one or both of them have good games, the Bucks won’t win if their other attack falls short.

While those two (and guys like Michael Beasley off of the bench) are causing trouble around the rim, the Bucks line up shooters like Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, Tony Snell, Malcolm Brogdon and Rashad Vaughn at the three-point line.

The Bucks are 5-1 in games where they made at least 30 percent of their threes, and 0-3 in games where they made less than 30 percent of them.

Volume is even more important. When Milwaukee makes more than six threes, the team is 5-0. When they make six or less threes, the Bucks are 0-4. If Atlanta can successfully chase the Bucks off of the three-point line, Milwaukee might be doomed.

Oct 29, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) dribbles as Philadelphia 76ers forward Jerami Grant (39) defends during the fourth quarter of the game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Atlanta Hawks won 104-72. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Player To Watch: Paul Millsap

If Dwight Howard sits out Paul Millsap will be even more important, but he’ll be a huge factor even if Howard plays. Millsap is a great player, and is probably one of the best 20 or so guys in the entire NBA.

Millsap is averaging 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.4 blocks per game. Millsap’s shooting percentages actually haven’t been great thus far–he’s making 41.9 percent of his field goals and 31.0 percent of his three-point attempts.

Still, the versatility Millsap provides is huge for the Hawks. He’s a problem on offense, and it will be interesting to see how Milwaukee elects to defend him. If he’s at the five the task will likely fall to the Bucks center, but Giannis might end up defending him if Millsap is alongside a true center.

It would be nice to see Jason Kidd give Jabari a shot at him at least, though. Millsap has a similar body type to Jabari, and the young Buck needs a chance to prove himself on defense. Millsap is an overwhelming challenge, but Jabari deserves a shot at defending him at least.

Mar 25, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) drives against Atlanta Hawks forward Kris Humphries (43) in the first quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 101-90. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Finale

Although I made my prediction without the knowledge of Dwight potentially sitting out, I likely wouldn’t change it anyway. The Hawks are on a back-to-back, but they’re really damn good this season.

This would be a statement win for the Bucks. Their wins so far are nice, but Brooklyn, Memphis, Indiana and New Orleans are all currently slated to miss the playoffs. The Hawks are not–they’ve got the second-best record in the Eastern Conference right now, and only the 10-1 Los Angeles Clippers have a longer winning streak than Atlanta.

The Hawks have won five straight, and they’ll work to make it six on Wednesday night. The Bucks should have a chance, but they’ll have to play a clean game or Atlanta will pick them apart.

Predictions and Leaderboard:

Ti Windisch: Hawks by 5 — 7-2, 76 point differential

Jordan Treske: Hawks by 13 — 6-3, 103 point differential

Adam McGee: Hawks by 8 — 6-3, 113 point differential

Lukas Harkins: Bucks by 6 — 5-4, 105 point differential

Tom Pheister: Hawks by 5 — 5-4, 118 point differential

Tim Wray: Hawks by 10 — 4-5, 112 point differential

Adam Coffman: Hawks by 5 — 5-3, 104 point differential

Rohan Katti: Hawks by 7 — 5-3, 113 point differential

The game is on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. CT, and will be televised on Fox Sports Wisconsin.

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