The Atlanta Hawks have won three straight games against teams with poor records. Now they get to test their confidence against a contender when they travel to Milwaukee for a game against the Bucks on Sunday.
Atlanta’s surge includes two wins against Minnesota and one against Detroit, a pair of three-win teams who are last in their respective conferences. The Hawks have pushed their record over .500, lead the Southeast Division and are sixth in the Eastern Conference.
But Milwaukee is a veteran team — its starting lineup averages nine years of experience — and the Bucks are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference, even though they’ve lost two in a row.
Milwaukee has won four straight games against Atlanta and swept last season’s series 3-0. The last meeting came on Dec. 27, 2019, when the Bucks won 112-86, despite playing without starters Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe.
Atlanta defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-98 on Friday, as Trae Young scored 43 and Clint Capela had his first career triple-double.
Young has emerged from a mini-shooting slump — 50 points over a three-game stretch — and has scored 81 points over the past two games, upping his average to 25.3 points. Young matched his career high with eight 3-pointers against Minnesota.
“I’ve worked too hard to let a couple games of me not shooting well affect me,” Young said.
Capela has become a force for the Hawks. He had 13 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 10 blocked shots on Friday and is averaging 14.2 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
“Clint is turning himself into a different force defensively and on the glass,” Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said. “To back up what he did the other night (27 points, 26 rebounds vs. Detroit) with what he did (Friday), with the 10 blocks and the triple-double is amazing.”
Asked if he’d ever had a triple-double, Capela said, “Yeah, NBA 2K.”
The Hawks were also helped by the return of starters De’Andre Hunter (16.3 points) and Cam Reddish (12.4 points), as well as reserve Danilo Gallinari, from injury. All three were in double figures against Minnesota.
Milwaukee had its game against Washington postponed on Friday night due to continuing COVID issues within the Wizards. The Bucks are coming off a 113-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, a game that coach Mike Budenholzer said will help his team in the long run.
“You learn a ton when you play the good teams,” Budenholzer said. “There were stretches (against the Lakers) when we were really good on both ends, but we had a bad stretch where, on both ends of the court, we were not good. We didn’t close well and they made the plays. We’ve got to do a better job making those shots tougher.”
Antetokounmpo leads the Bucks with 27 points and 10.3 rebounds; he had 25 points and 12 rebounds against the Lakers. In 22 career games against Atlanta, he has averaged 20.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
Khris Middleton averages 21.9 points for a Milwaukee club that ranks third in the league with 119.5 points per game. Jrue Holiday averages 16.1 and has scored 22 points in back-to-back games.