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The Hawks stack up better against the Bucks than you might think

Can Atlanta top the Bucks and go to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1961?

ATLANTA — Being the underdog is obviously not a position the Atlanta Hawks find very troublesome.

They were the lower-seed against a hyped-up Knicks team and rolled them fairly easily in the first round, before taking on the No. 1-seeded 76ers in the second round and emerging on top out of a seven-game slugfest.

RELATED: What to watch for as the Hawks tip off against the Bucks tonight

Now, looking for their first trip to the NBA Finals in 50 years, the Hawks have another tall task in front of them: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Eastern Conference Finals schedule

  • All games on TNT for TV
  • Game 1: Tonight, June 23, at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Game 2: Friday,  June 25, at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Game 3: Sunday, June 27, vs. Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Game 4: Tuesday, June 29, vs. Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Game 5*: Thursday, July 1, at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Game 6*: Saturday, July 3, vs. Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Game 7*: Monday, July 5, at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m. ET
  • *- if necessary

The big question is - do the Hawks have what it takes to top Milwaukee and reach their first Finals since moving to Atlanta? The shortest answer is there isn't any reason they can't do it, after beating a similarly-statured Philly team already.

How would that look like, though? I imagine it going a bit like the Sixers back-and-forth slugfest. 

The Hawks and Bucks match up pretty evenly. Milwaukee's best offensive player (Giannis) matches up with Atlanta's best defender (Clint Capela), while the Hawks' best offensive player (Trae Young) matches up with one of the Bucks' best defenders (Jrue Holiday). Both teams rely on a solid collection of wing scorers/shooters (for Atlanta, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter; for Milwaukee, Holiday, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez).

The Bucks went 46-26 for the season, while the Hawks' record after Nate McMillan took over coaching duties - 27-11 - would translate to about 51-21 over this year's 72-game schedule.

They played three times this season, with the Bucks winning twice - but they met only twice, in mid-April, after McMillan took over, and split those games.

They were pretty weird games. In one, the Hawks outshot the Bucks from three and generally kept Giannis in check (15 points, 5 rebounds) but Young shot 3-17 and they lost by 11. In the other, Young didn't even play and Giannis went off for 31 points and 14 rebounds... but Atlanta won by seven, as Bogdanovic, Huerter and Collins combined for 70 points.

So, I'm not seeing this series as one where either team pulls away. No 2-0 or 3-1 leads to come back from. Atlanta went W-L-L-W-W-L-W to get past Philly, and I think something similar happens here.

Prediction

We see a couple games where Trae takes over, and a couple ugly performances, a couple games where Giannis disappears, and a couple more where he's unstoppable. These teams trade blows and go through some weird swings.... and the Hawks reach the NBA Finals in 7.