Two of the hottest teams in the NBA’s young season will meet for the first time when the Atlanta Hawks continue their five-game trip with a matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.
Milwaukee is the only unbeaten team in the league, sporting a 4-0 record. Atlanta has won four of its first five games, including two in a row, and is tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks put away the visiting New York Knicks 119-108 on Friday night while the Hawks clobbered the Pistons 136-112 in the second of consecutive matchups in Detroit.
The Saturday game will be the first of four meetings been the Atlanta and Milwaukee, three of them in the next two-plus weeks. The Hawks won two of three against the Bucks last season, with Milwaukee taking the final matchup 124-115 on March 9 behind 43 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo had 30 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists on Friday, scoring eight points during an 18-0 run that gave the Bucks a 24-point, third-quarter lead. He is averaging 34.5 points, 13.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists this season.
Jrue Holiday averages 14 points and seven assists while Bobby Portis comes off the Milwaukee bench to contribute 14 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Atlanta continues to thrive behind the guard duo of Dejounte Murray, who was acquired in the offseason, and Trae Young. Against the Pistons on Friday, Young put up 36 points and 12 assists while Murray added 26 points and five assists. Young has reached the 30-point mark 99 times, leaving him one 30-point game shy of tying John Drew for the fourth most in franchise history.
“We feel that we have two playmakers that can create opportunities for themselves as well as for the rest of our guys,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said. “We’ve had a couple of games where we haven’t done that, but for the most part in this early season, we’ve been pretty good at taking care of the ball.”
Young is averaging 29.4 points and 10.6 assists, and Murray is contributing 19.8 points, 7.6 assists and 6.8 rebounds.
McMillan said the difference on Friday was Atlanta’s defense in the second half. The Hawks outscored the Pistons 67-45 over the final two quarters.
“I thought we needed to establish our defense,” McMillan said. “I thought our guys took that challenge. Defensively we were much better in the second half guarding the ball and taking them out of what they wanted to do.”
Defense was key for Milwaukee on Friday, too. The Bucks went on a 10-4 run early in the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 17 points.
“We have the personnel that can defend on any given night,” Antetokounmpo said. “At the end of the day, as long as we defend, we put ourselves in position to win. That’s our identify moving forward. We cannot go away from that.”
Milwaukee remains without injured Khris Middleton (wrist), Pat Connaughton (calf) and Joe Ingles (knee). Atlanta is missing Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is rehabbing from a right knee injury.
–Field Level Media