#6 Milwaukee Bucks
(46-36, 2nd place in Central Division)
#3 Atlanta Hawks
(53-29, 2nd place in Southeast Division)
How They Got Here: Even though the Bucks weren’t exactly a squad filled with superstar power, they were still a solid team all season long. They put together the fourth best record amongst teams after the All-Star Break, and they even went on a string of games in which they went 20-5-1 ATS to boot.
Player To Watch: With C Andrew Bogut out of the lineup, F John Salmons is going to be the man to keep an eye on in the scoring department. In 30 games with his new team, Salmons averaged 19.9 points and over three assists and rebounds per game. He’s a proven scorer that can shoot the rock from all over the court, and he’ll be relied upon to pick up the scoring slack.
X-Factor: Don’t forget about G Jerry Stackhouse on this team. It wasn’t that many years ago that Stack was an All-Star, and even though he only averaged 8.5 points per game in 42 games with the Bucks, he can snare a few three pointers and go on a run himself if he starts to catch fire.
Key To Victory: The Bucks are going to have to try to slow down and wear down a more talented Atlanta team. Especially if G Brandon Jennings and some of the supporting cast members get going, this is a lethal team in a relatively weak Eastern Conference that can be a real pain in the neck to a lot of clubs.
How They Got Here: Until Orlando really caught fire during the last two months of the season, the Hawks felt like they were standing stride for stride with LYs Eastern Conference champs. However, Atlanta just wasn’t good enough to take out the Magic, but it was good enough to overcome Boston. Thanks to four wins over the C’s this year, the Hawks finished with the third best mark in the conference.
Player To Watch: G Joe Johnson is going to be the best pure scorer on the court at any given time in this series, and he’s the closest thing to a superstar on either side. He’s been nursing some nagging injuries at the end of the season, but with those now appearing to be healed, we can expect to see Johnson come up near his 21.3 points per game average at bare minimum every single game in this set.
X-Factor: G Mike Bibby is going to be in control of the tempo, and he’ll be far more important than any scorer will for Atlanta in this series. He can’t let G Brandon Jennings get out of control, but at the same time, Bibby will need to be the man that keeps the Bucks off balance pushing the ball up the court. He may not show up many places in the stat sheet, but Bibby is the real X-Factor in the bunch.
Key To Victory: The outside game will be there for the Hawks with Johnson and G Jamal Crawford doing the scoring, but the key is going to be whether the trio of forwards in Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams can control the paint. If they take full advantage of the absence of Bogut on the inside, the Hawks should be in good shape.
The Final Word: Milwaukee may have only gone 1-2 both SU and ATS this season against the Hawks, but the first clash of the year went to overtime. These teams haven’t played a game separated by double digits since January of last season, a stretch of five straight. Look for a very tight series the whole way through, but if there’s a major upset coming in the first round, this is it.
Bucks in 7