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The Milwaukee Bucks are trying desperately to shake out of a recent slide and get back in the playoff chase. Atlanta also wants to remain viable, but it will have to solve the offensive issues that have cost it in recent weeks. A key Eastern Conference matchup takes place Friday night when the Bucks visit the Hawks for their second meeting this season. Atlanta posted a 97-92 win at Milwaukee January 23rd. Here is a look at what to expect from each team, plus some potential NBA picks on the game.

 Milwaukee Bucks (14-21) @Atlanta Hawks (20-15), 7:30 p.m. ET

Milwaukee has flirted with .500 a couple of times this season, most recently getting to 12-14, but has dropped seven of nine games since, including Wednesday’s 102-96 loss at Boston to open a three-game road trip. The Bucks are mid-level on offense, but they have had trouble consistently stopping teams, as they rank just 23 rd in the league in scoring defense (97.5 ppg). The Bucks are balanced offensively, with six players scoring in double figures, but the team has been riddled with injury issues – Andrew Bogut (ankle) is still out and has missed 23 games, Mike Dunleavy has missed 10 games, Stephen Jackson nine and Drew Goodne six. Brandon Jennings (17.9 ppg, 5.4 apg) has carried the load admirably, but he needs at least two additional healthy bodies to give him help. Gooden had a good game Wednesday, but who else will be available to step up?

Atlanta got to 16-6 not long ago and looked like one of the true elite teams in the East. Since then, though, the Hawks have gone 4-9, including Wednesday’s 85-82 loss to Golden State. Offense has been the issue for Atlanta – it has gone five games without scoring more than 83 points and has cleared 90 points just once in its last nine games. That trend may break Friday, but Golden State was considered a weak defensive team as well and Atlanta’s offense looked flat. The Hawks are one of the best defensive teams in the league (91.5 ppg allowed), but are one of the 10 worst offenses (93.0 ppg). This could be a battle of attrition – which will bend first – Atlanta’s offense or Milwaukee’s defense?

The latest NBA odds list the Hawks as 4.5-point favorites, while the over/under is set for 188.5 points. Based on the first meeting, it was Milwaukee’s defense that gave in more, as Atlanta “exploded” for 97 points. If Milwaukee’s defense isn’t shored up, this might be the same result. Atlanta can’t seem to get out of its own way on offense, however, and Atlanta won that first meeting mainly because it was during the team’s 16-6 start and it was riding a cool wave of momentum. Neither team has momentum right now, though Milwaukee does have a post-All-Star break win under its belt already. Atlanta is 2-5 in its last seven home games, while the Bucks are 3-3 in their last six road contests. Atlanta gets a slight advantage in this game, if for no other reason its defense and the friendly rims.

Final Score Prediction: Hawks 90, Bucks 85

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