The Bucks spent the first two months of the season battling through an onslaught of injuries. Apparently now it’s Atlanta’s turn.
The Hawks (22-20) could be without as many as four key contributors Saturday, as point guard Jeff Teague suffered an ankle injury during Friday’s blowout loss to San Antonio. The potential All-Star, who’s averaging career-highs in points (16.2) and assists (7.3), is a major reason why Atlanta leads the NBA in assists per game. He’ll miss at least the next two games. Teague joins Pero Antic, Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll on the injury report. Horford is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, while the team learned Thursday that Antic will miss 2-to-4 weeks with a stress fracture in his right ankle. Carroll, who sat out Friday, is considered a game-time decision with a mild hamstring strain.
The rash of injuries have left the fourth-place Hawks shorthanded, and the team called up Jared Cunningham from the D-League on Saturday morning. In last night’s game, little-used rookie James Nunnally played a career-high 22 minutes, while fellow-rookie Dennis Schroder saw action in just his second game this month after recording eight DNP-CDs. Both will likely see significant minutes again Saturday, particularly if Carroll ends up sitting.
For the Bucks, injuries are no longer a major issue, but their overall play hasn’t shown much improvement with a healthy roster. After a fairly impressive win over Detroit on Wednesday, Milwaukee returned to form Friday, falling 93-78 to the Cavaliers. Milwaukee shot just 40.5 percent from the field and was outrebounded 52-34. Only two players scored in double figures, with Khris Middleton leading the way with 13 points off the bench. Caron Butler was held to just two points in 16 minutes after going for 30 on Wednesday.
Milwaukee remains the league’s only team yet to win consecutive games, something they haven’t accomplished since March 17-19. In eight games following victories this season, the Bucks have fallen by an average of 11 points.
In each of the past two games, coach Larry Drew has opted to start Ersan Ilyasova at small forward, a position he’s rarely played since entering the league. The decision paid off Wednesday, as Ilyasova matched up well with Detroit’s oversized lineup, but he scored just five points Friday, as Milwaukee’s starting unit got off to a familiarly slow start. It remains to be seen whether Drew will continue with the bigger lineup, but given their injuries, Atlanta will likely roll out an undersized starting five featuring Gustavo Ayon at center.
Ilyasova playing small forward of late has shifted Khris Middleton to the bench and Giannis Antetokounmpo to shooting guard. The rookie had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes Friday before aggravating a back injury.
Ekpe Udoh has started at center each of the past two games with Larry Sanders battling an illness. Sanders sat out Wednesday’s game and came off the bench Friday, scoring seven points in 21 minutes. Though Drew’s lineups have been beyond unpredictable this season, it would make sense for Sanders to reclaim his starting spot.
– The Gary Neal saga continued Friday, as Neal notched his second straight DNP-CD and eighth this month. Rumors of Milwaukee looking to move Neal continue to swirl, though his value couldn’t be a whole lot lower at this point. In the three games he’s played in January, Neal shot a combined 9-of-25 from the field and 3-of-14 from beyond the arc.
– Giannis Antetokounmpo rebounded Friday after a few lackluster performances, but the back injury he aggravated could limit him Saturday. He took a hard fall and remained on the floor favoring his back for several seconds before getting up.
– Atlanta won all four matchups with Milwaukee last season and is bidding to win five straight against the Bucks for the first time since 1996-97.
– Gustavo Ayon will make his first return to Milwaukee since signing with Atlanta this offseason. “The Goose” averaged 4.3 points and 4.9 rebounds in 13 games for Milwaukee last season after coming over from Orlando as part of the J.J. Redick/Tobias Harris deal. Ayon expressed displeasure with his role down the stretch, threatening to leave the NBA to play overseas if his playing time did not increase.
PG – Shelvin Mack
SG – Lou Williams
SF – Kyle Korver
PF – Paul Millsap
C – Gustavo Ayon
PG – Brandon Knight
SG – Giannis Antetokounmpo
SF – Ersan Ilyasova
PF – John Henson
C – Larry Sanders
Points: Millsap (17.6), Knight (15.7)
Rebounds: Millsap (8.2), Henson (8.1)
Assists: Teague (7.3), Knight (4.5)
Blocks: Millsap (1.2), Henson (2.2)
PER: Millsap (20.1), Henson (20.5)
Scoring: 13th (101.8)
Scoring defense: 19th (101.4)
Rebounding: 26th (40.8)
Assists: 1st (25.4)
Scoring: 30th (91.4)
Scoring defense: 15th (100.4)
Rebounding: 25th (41.2)
Assists: 18th (20.7)