Hawks: 4 things to glean from win over Bucks
ATLANTA — Here are four things we gleaned from the Hawks' 98-90 home victory over the Bucks on Wednesday night:
1. The Hawks invoked an "Iron Five" approach to handling an inferior opponent
During the 1980s, the Celtics were famous for demanding 40-plus minutes from their starting quintet of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson during the playoffs, as a means of maximizing their time on the floor ... and minimizing the impact of a lackluster bench in crucial situations.
Against Milwaukee, Atlanta similarly squeezed out at least 39 minutes from four starters (Devin Harris, Jeff Teague, Josh Smith, Al Horford) and 35 from Kyle Korver, who counterbalanced his middling scoring production (nine points) with a superb plus-15 rating against the Bucks.
All told, the Hawks' bench accounted for just nine points and 36 minutes.
The starters' expanded roles led to more production as well, with Teague (27 points, 11 assists), Horford (26 points, 15 rebounds), Smith (12 points, 16 boards, six assists) and Harris (13 points, six assists) overwhelming the perimeter-oriented Bucks throughout the game.
The key stretch: Led by the starting five, Atlanta rolled to a 29-16 advantage over Milwaukee in the third quarter, boosting its lead to 18 points.
"When we play with energy, we're not only a fun team to watch, I think we're a pretty good basketball team (too)," said Hawks head Larry Drew after the game.
He later added: "We came out in the third quarter and stepped it up a notch. You can clearly see when we're playing with a little more aggression, we're moving the basketball, we're looking to push it out — make or miss — and we're contesting shots."
2. The ultra-quick Teague has found his mojo again
From March 9-15, spanning three games and one more missed to injury, Teague struggled to find his shooting and passing rhythm with the Hawks, which might explain the club's 2-2 record during that stretch.
But ever since Atlanta collected a big road victory against Brooklyn on Sunday, Teague has notched 57 points and 33 assists ... for three-game averages of 19 points and 11 assists.
Against the Bucks, Teague encountered little resistance when making hard drives to the hoop or kick-starting a large handful of break opportunities.
On a micro level, Teague easily outdistanced point-guard counterpart Brandon Jennings in points (27-21), assists (11-5) and field goals (9-8), while also crushing him by 21 in the plus-minus rating.
"I don't really get caught up in that (one-on-one battle with Jennings). I just go out there and play," demurred Teague.
3. The Hawks must weigh the pros and cons of chasing the No. 4 playoff seed
It's a familiar refrain, for sure, but one that bears repeating: Perception-wise, Atlanta has no fear or consternation with sharing the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with Miami (next month) — the same high-flying Heat who are currently riding a 24-game winning streak (including Wednesday at Cleveland).
At 38-30, the Hawks lag two games behind the Nets for fourth place in the East, but they also have a one-game cushion over the Bulls for the No. 5 spot. (The 4/5 seeds would be grouped with the Heat in the East semifinals.)
Atlanta is essentially fighting battles on two fronts right now: The professional, highly driven side of the team wants to win every game and maximize its momentum for the playoffs.
In turn, the practical side of the club may quietly wonder, It wouldn't be so bad to avoid the Heat in the playoffs as long as humanly possible. Right?
4. Heaven help the Bucks, who are stuck in the NBA version of no-man's land
There's no shame in making the playoffs, of course, but there's also no glory in being the best of a bad lot of Eastern also-rans ... and being served up as sacrificial lambs to the Heat in the Eastern quarterfinals.
As a result, Milwaukee (34-33) can neither improve its standing for a high lottery pick (barring a major trade), nor garner attention as a viable contender during the playoffs. And looking at the salaries for 2014 and beyond, guards Monta Ellis ($11 million next year) and Jennings ($4.3 million) could both be gone from the franchise over the next 17 months.
As such, it's possible the Bucks could lose their two most marketable (and talented) players, without getting a full return on the investment.
Which brings me to this:
(Tongue firmly planted in cheek)
The day will come when the NBA allows the No. 8 seed — at least the teams with losing records — to forfeit their spot in the playoffs, in exchange for one fateful spin in the spring lottery drawing. (The No. 1 seed would get a bye to the next round.)
Think of it as The Price Is Right ... meets "Who Wants To Draft An Eventual Can't-Miss, Max-Contract Player?"