Six games, tops. Better yet, five games.
That’s how long it should take the Atlanta Hawks to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. Or so we say to ourselves, no? Here are just four reasons why Atlanta should put the quick beat-down Milwaukee:
1) Talent. Although I list this reason first, it is not the first and foremost reason. But it is the most obvious. Going from position to position, the Hawks are simply more talented than the Bucks. It’s part of the reason (but not the whole reason) that the Hawks are the third seed, while the Bucks are the sixth. Subtracting Andrew Bogut from the equation only magnifies this point. There really is not much to say here that shouldn’t be obvious to even the casual eye. Inspect both rosters, and see that the Hawks have not just the edge, but the plateau. Their best player is not as good as our best player. Their second best player is not as good as our second best player, and so on.
2) Experience. There is no subsitute for it, particularly in the playoffs. Milwaukee head coach Scott Skiles has been to the NBA playoffs more times as a head coach than Mike Woodson has. However, this is Woodson’s third time in the playoffs with the Hawks, while Skiles is enjoying his first trip to the playoffs witht he Bucks. Edge goes to Woodson in this one. Other than the coach, there are two “positions” that matter most experience-wise in the playoffs. Your best player/team captain, and your point guard. Mike Bibby is so far ahead of Brandon Jennings in this area that it’s not even funny. Typically, rookie point guards (or we can expand that to young point guards in general) do not take teams far in the playoffs. An exception to that rule would be Chris Paul, and simply put, Brandon Jennings is no Chris Paul. By the same vein, John Salmons is no Joe Johnson. Make no mistake, with Andrew Bogut out, John Salmons is the Bucks’ best player. He does not match Johnson in either talent or battle-tested playoff experience.
3) Homecourt Advantage and Improved Road Play. The Hawks have it, and should not lose it. Atlanta won an incredible 34 of 41 home games this regular season, which was good enough to match Southeast Division Leader and #2 seed Orlando, as well as Denver, and the Western Conference #1 seed L.A. Lakers. Only one team had a better home record (by the slim margin of 1 win and 1 loss): the team with the NBA’s top record this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers. How is that for perspective? The Hawks also became a better road team this year, and won in Milwuakee as the regular season wound down. Knowing how well they play at home, and then beating what was a potential playoff opponent at the time, on the road? That can only add to Atlanta’s confidence.
4) Mentality. This is the last, but most certainly not the least reason why the Hawks should beat the Bucks in six games or less. In some ways, it’s not a reason, but something they have to prove. This Milwaukee team is a first-timer in the playoffs. Their mentality is different. They want to experience the playoffs, compete well, and maybe even “shock the world.” That’s how the Hawks felt in the ‘08 playoffs when they faced the top-seeded Celtics. Such is often the case with the lower three seeds (6, 7, and 8), though I’d argue that this applies more to the Eastern Conference than it does to the West. Of course, ballclubs like the Bobcats and the Bucks tend to have a tougher mentality than the average (an extension of their head coaches, no doubt). However, their mentality is not that of a team that expects not only to get to the second round, but to do some damage while they’re there.
This is the difference. Every man wearing a Hawks uniform should be thinking this way. Such an attitude is necessary if you want to get something done in the second round of the playoffs. Take your first round opponent seriously and dispatch them as quickly as you can. You will need the rest. Also, this requires good execution on both ends of the court, something that any team looking to advance, had better tighten up on. The Bucks figure to make for a good first round tune-up, and that is how the Hawks need to treat them: do all of the necessary work, but finish the job quickly.
So what do you think? Will the Hawks take the Bucks too lightly and drag the series out? Which is more reasonable to expect, a series win in six games, or one in five games?
What do you think of player-to-player matchups?
It’s the playoffs, baby!