Knowing the Bucks’ flaws heading into the playoffs is half the battle

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By Jake McCormick

As the pomp and circumstance of the Milwaukee Bucks’ final home game of the 2009-10 regular season gave way to a 104-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the reality of Milwaukee’s Mt. Everest trek to playoff success set in.

Saturday night, the Bucks faced a KG-less Boston Celtics. On Monday, they came within eight points of an Atlanta Hawks team that was without the inevitable sixth man of the year Jamal Crawford. So even though both games were fairly close before the final five minutes, critics will be quick to point out the cautious approach of the Eastern Conference’s third and fourth seed teams.

“It’s not like we should doubt whether we can compete or beat one of those teams,” coach Scott Skiles said. “But we need to know what our approach and what our mindset is going to be.”

Taking 93 shots and only making 38% of them and allowing the Hawks or Celtics to minimize their midrange jumpers are two major flaws the Bucks will be focusing on until the postseason kicks off.

If the Bucks draw the Celtics in the playoffs, they will be forced to throw Kurt Thomas, Dan Gadzuric, and Ersan Ilyasova at Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis. Judging by the way the Hawks were able to work the Bucks down low for 52 points in the paint Monday, this wouldn’t end well. Forgive me for sounding like a negative nancy.

But more than likely, Milwaukee will face the uber-athletic Atlanta in the first round, unless the Miami Heat lose to the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday and the Bucks upset the Celtics that same night. One may happen, but the chances of both occurring are lower than seeing another Michael Jordan comeback.

Overall, judging by the two losses in three days to the Hawks and Celtics, the Bucks match up much better with Atlanta. They have played them close all year, including Monday night, and showed flashes of the drive-and-dish style of offense they are forced to play against a smaller starting lineup.

“We’ve got to play at a very, very high level of intensity, especially on the defensive end,” Skiles said. “We didn’t do that. More than likely what’s going to happen when you don’t do that, you don’t have much resistance to anything they are doing.”

Salmons, Jerry Stackhouse, and Carlos Delfino can all get to the rack off the dribble, but they must do it consistently if the team is going to have any success along the perimeter against a Hawks team that can switch their bigs onto any guard they want.

The trick, as Brandon Jennings and Skiles alluded to, is to find a way into the lane and make a smart outlet pass if the shot isn’t there. That’s easier said than done, but at least Milwaukee is realistic about the required game plan for success.

Skiles has been experimenting with running John Salmons at the one and playing a smaller lineup at times, and the Hawks would allow him to do that more consistently because of their constantly switching defense and lack of a true post player. The Bucks had some troubles with the switches, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to get some in-game practice against the Atlanta defense if they are going into a seven game series against it.

It isn’t inconceivable for the Bucks to pull a first round upset, but a lot has to go right on both ends of the floor. At the very least they will pull two games out purely from Skiles’ fight until you’re dead mentality and the team’s own confidence and chemistry.

“They’re both beatable for us and we’ve been hanging with them the whole year,” Jennings said. “The playoffs are a different level, so we’ll see.”

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