Bucks-Hawks series preview

Adam Hagy / National Basketball Association / Getty

Who saw this one coming? After the Bucks rallied past the Nets in an epic Game 7, the Hawks polished off the 76ers in a seven-game series that was as historic as it was shocking. Can Atlanta pull off another stunner against the new title favorites?

3. Bucks (-500) vs. 5. Hawks (+375)

TEAM RECORD ATS HEAD-TO-HEAD NET (REG) NET (POST)
Milwaukee Bucks 54-29 37-44-2 2-1 +5.8 (4th) +5.7 (5th)
Atlanta Hawks 49-35 47-37 1-2 +2.2 (11th) +0.9 (6th)

Based on the odds for this series, you'd think these two teams belonged in different leagues. Yet their paths to this point are more similar than they might seem. Credit belongs to the Bucks, who vanquished the title favorites in the second round, though they did so with the Nets missing at least one of their superstars for all but 43 seconds of that series.

It sounds a lot like what the Hawks faced in their own second-round matchup. Joel Embiid played through a torn meniscus, but he still performed like an MVP candidate in one of this postseason's gutsier performances. And Atlanta won, anyway, in part by sagging off Ben Simmons and forcing him to prove himself from the perimeter and the free-throw line.

Does that remind you of the way to attack another star? While Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved his ailing shot since early in his career, he's still a liability from beyond the arc and is prone to being exposed late in games when defenses wall off the paint and force him to shoot jumpers. He's also hitting just 53.8% from the charity stripe in the playoffs, hindered by a wonky routine that has become a viral meme at this point.

It's not like the Hawks haven't played to the Bucks' level this season, either. After firing coach Lloyd Pierce and promoting Nate McMillan in early March, Atlanta posted the NBA's seventh-best net rating (+4.5) during the rest of the regular season, just ahead of Milwaukee's (+4.1) over the same span. Additionally, the teams had near-identical offensive and defensive ratings during that stretch, and the Hawks boasted a better win-loss record.

The Bucks have turned it on in the playoffs, though both squads come into this series having beaten a gritty but flawed group in Round 1 and a top-two seed with injury woes in Round 2, each winning a Game 7 on the road to do so. And while Milwaukee has the best player in this series, don't overlook the star power hiding in plain sight on the other side.

Among those remaining in the postseason, Trae Young leads all active players in points (29.1), assists (10.4), and made free throws (7.8) per contest, and he ranks third in made threes (2.8). His game-breaking range and vision have opened up the floor for the rest of his teammates, too. Kevin Huerter's 27 points in Game 7 marked the Hawks' seventh 20-point performance in the second round from someone other than Young.

Milwaukee's supporting cast is up for the task as well. Khris Middleton turned it on late in the Nets series, averaging 28 points over the final five games, while Jrue Holiday has shown flashes as a heady third piece. Holiday struggled mightily from the floor in Game 7, though his defense on Young will prove invaluable - and unlike Simmons, the Bucks' lead guard will be on the court for the majority of the fourth quarter, where the Hawks have worked their playoff magic.

Those comebacks represent the highs and lows of this Atlanta squad. The Hawks were outscored by 20 points in the second round, but they also became the only team in the last 25 years to mount consecutive 18-point playoff comebacks. Milwaukee was bested by 20 points in its series with Brooklyn, too, but the Bucks made timely plays late to win four of seven.

Yes, Milwaukee is the better team, and it has the best player in this series. But this draw isn't as lopsided as oddsmakers portray it to be. The Hawks will pose matchup problems for the Bucks if they can spread the floor offensively and dare Milwaukee to beat them along the perimeter. Conversely, Giannis and Co. will test the Hawks' improving defense and force Clint Capela and John Collins to prove their might inside.

Ultimately, it's hard to see the Bucks closing this series out in five games or fewer. Young is certain to get hot in at least a pair of contests, and his teammates have proven worthy of the moment when called upon. The long-shot price for an outright upset is appealing, but the better bet is on the Hawks to make this a compelling series, at the very least.

Pick: Hawks +2.5 series wins (-125)

C Jackson Cowart is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on Twitter (@CJacksonCowart) or email him at cjackson.cowart@thescore.com.

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Bucks-Hawks series preview
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