With 16 games left in the season for the Milwaukee Bucks and 15 remaining for the Atlanta Hawks, the three remaining games between the two teams will hold much significance. Both teams sit in the tight bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and they'll meet Wednesday night in Atlanta in what should be a pivotal matchup.
The Hawks are fifth in the conference standings and only 2.5 games in front of the eighth-place Bucks.
Monta Ellis will have a bit to do with any upset bid by the Bucks. The shooting guard is averaging 25.9 points per game, shooting at a 52.4-percent clip, while dishing out 6.5 assists in the month of March. On Sunday, he scored a season-high 39 on the Orlando Magic and hit five 3-pointers en route to a 115-109 victory. Milwaukee used another top-notch performance by Ellis -- 21 points, eight assists and nine rebounds -- to pull out a 102-95 win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.
A quick turnaround and the travel to Atlanta pits the Bucks against a Hawks team with one day off and one full day to think about a 127-113 defeat against the Dallas Mavericks. The Hawks gave up 57.3-percent shooting overall and 59.1-percent accuracy from 3-point range to the Mavericks as the defense in general irked coach Larry Drew.
In the teams' first meeting this year on Feb. 23, Atlanta pulled out a 103-102 win by shooting a healthy 14-of-28 from deep themselves. That differential and the difference in rebounding -- the Bucks ripped 17 boards off the offensive glass -- could prove critical once again.
Whatever the result, the storyline will only thicken after Wednesday. The Hawks and the Bucks clash this Sunday in Milwaukee before finishing the season series in Atlanta on April 12.
The game between the Bucks and the Hawks will also give Milwaukee a look at a once-coveted trade target in Hawks forward Josh Smith. Despite heavy talks of a swap led up to the trade deadline, a deal between Atlanta and Milwaukee never worked out, so the Bucks instead traded for reserve guard J.J Redick, who is averaging 13.3 points with his new team.
Milwaukee could still land Smith this summer via free agency, but that also depends on what the team does with Ellis and point guard Brandon Jennings.
The Bucks will be without forward Irsan Ilyasova and forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on Wednesday. Ilyasova is dealing with back and hip issues while Mbah a Moute remains sidelined with a toe problem, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: FSN Wisconsin / SportSouth
Odds: The Hawks opened as five-point favorites.