Bucks look to get back on track against Hawks
MILWAUKEE -- The time for reflection has passed and the clock is ticking on the Milwaukee Bucks' playoff hopes.
Milwaukee was knocking on the door of home-court advantage in the first round when it won 10 of its first 13 games after replacing head coach Jason Kidd with assistant Joe Prunty in January.
But when the Bucks return to action against Atlanta on Saturday afternoon at the Bradley Center, they'll sit no better than seventh in the Eastern Conference after dropping seven of their last 10 game and three of their last five.
The Bucks still appear comfortably in the playoff hunt, leading the ninth-place Detroit Pistons by 5 1/2 games, but with only 14 games left the margin for error is getting slimmer by the day.
"Every game means something," Bucks wing Khris Middleton said. "Every win, every loss for every team that's 3 through 8 right now. It's a crucial point in the season where we have to lock in and make that extra push. ... We've got to play one way. When we relax, try to coast, that's when we get in trouble."
The Bucks were embarrassed in their last outing, a 126-117 loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night. They fell behind by 16 at halftime before snapping out of their funk and taking a lead in the third quarter only to watch as Orlando responded with a 10-0 run before cruising to a victory.
"I think we underestimated them at times," forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "That's why we didn't bring the energy we usually bring."
The lack of energy wasn't an isolated incident. Milwaukee has found itself getting blown out of the building on multiple occasions during its recent slump. The Bucks have mounted furious comebacks in several of those games -- even winning a few -- but coming out strong from the start is now a matter of urgency.
"We have to get everybody to play hard from the beginning of the game," Prunty said.
For the Hawks, there will be no postseason. Just ping pong balls for the NBA Draft lottery. They bring a five-game losing streak to Milwaukee after falling 129-117 to Charlotte on Thursday night in Atlanta.
Taurean Prince has been one of the Hawks' few bright spots of late. After being benched for the second half of a loss at Indiana last week, the small forward has averaged 29.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists in his last three games, including a 22-point, 10-rebound showing with six assists in the loss to the Hornets.
"I'm more pleased with my decision making," Prince said. "Not only that, but the few turnovers I do have every game. It's really surprising and gratifying to me to let me know I'm growing and getting better from an intellectual area and getting better up here (points to head)."
He has been especially good down the stretch, averaging 11.7 points in the fourth quarter, with two 16-point quarters.
Saturday marks the final meeting of the season between the teams. The Bucks have won three in a row over the Hawks, including the first two meetings this season.
The game will also be the Hawks' last visit to the Bradley Center, which will be replaced next season. Since the facility opened in 1988, the Hawks are 39-65 in Milwaukee.
Updated March 16, 2018