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Background

It's not uncommon for contenders (and, in this case, reigning champs) to struggle at the start of the following season. But no one was expecting both the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to be outside of the playoff picture after the first 13 games of the season.

However, it's not exactly fair to lump these two teams in together. The Bucks actually won the championship and are on the oldest teams in the league. In addition, they have been riddled with injuries, a trend that will continue into tonight. So far, only four of Bucks 15 players have played in every game. Key contributors Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, and Jrue Holiday have all missed 5+ games.

On the other hand, the Hawks have a roster that is young and healthy. They shouldn't be bored already. Incomplete games and nightmare third quarters have cost them several winnable games. 

That general malaise is made worse by cold shooting, which according to Coach Nate McMillan, is translating to bad defense. Right now, the Hawks are middle of the pack in offensive rating (107.5), but they are bottom-three in defensive rating (112). Their six-game losing streak is the team's worst skid since December 2019.

Outlook

This rematch of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals serves as an important early-season test for the Hawks. They have not beaten a contender yet. In fact, only two of their four wins have come against teams that made the playoffs last season.

In tonight's game, the Bucks will be without Donte DiVincenzo (ankle surgery recovery), Brook Lopez (back soreness), and Khris Middleton (COVID protocols). Giannis Antetokounmpo (right ankle sprain) and George Hill (back soreness) are listed as probable.

Meanwhile, the Hawks injury report lists Bogdan Bogdanovic (right ankle soreness) as questionable. De’Andre Hunter (right wrist soreness) and Onyeka Okongwu (right shoulder injury recovery) are out. 

SI Sportsbook has the Bucks listed as 1.5-point favorites. This is a winnable game for the Hawks, as the Bucks are playing with a skeleton crew. I believe shooting on familiar rims for the first time this month should also aid the Hawks in recapturing their spark from last spring.

Final Thoughts

It will be good for the Hawks to be back home for the first time in two weeks. Their west coast road trip was disastrous. After the Nuggets game, Coach McMillan said the team had to start digging their way out of the hole they created on the road. He's right because the Southeast Division is no slouch this season. The Hawks have plenty of time to right the ship, but they do not want to rely on another late-season playoff push like last spring.

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