Loss drops Bucks to 6th in East
But the Bucks fell short of that goal for a second consecutive game Monday as they dropped a 104-96 decision to the Atlanta Hawks to close the home regular-season schedule.
Milwaukee (45-36) fell into the sixth-seeded position in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, falling one game behind Miami after the Heat edged the Philadelphia 76ers,
But the Bucks still don’t know if they will be facing the Hawks or Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, as they prepare for one final regular-season game at Boston on Wednesday.
Atlanta (52-29) moved 1½ games ahead of the idle Celtics (50-30) and took a major step toward securing the third-seeded position. If the Bucks remain in sixth and the Hawks stay in third, they will face each other in the opening round.
“We’ve got six quarters in a row now that we haven’t had the defensive intensity we need,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “We started the game soft. That’s a plus-50 win team and they’re going to take advantage of that.
“As we always do, we tried to battle back. We just could never get any traction. Our goal was to be disruptive to them and we never got that done tonight.”
Hawks guard Joe Johnson scored 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting as six Atlanta players scored in double figures. Marvin Williams added 18 points, and center Al Horford had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bucks shot only 38.7 percent (36 of 93) and failed to produce the smooth ball movement that has been their trademark. They connected on just 11 of 32 three-point attempts.
Atlanta took advantage of their athletic big men, switching screens and sometimes leaving the 6-foot-9 Josh Smith or the 6-10 Horford guarding Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings on the perimeter.
“When you’ve got Josh Smith on you, you’d think you can just take him to the rack, but he’s a guy who can move and he’s a great shot blocker,” Jennings said. “It’s real tough. We were standing a lot on offense, not a lot of ball movement.
“Their length is unbelievable; they’re like an AAU team. They played without Jamal Crawford tonight. So even with him, they’re 6-4 and up.”
The Bucks trailed by 12 points early in the final quarter but were able to cut the deficit to 89-87 on a pair of free throws by Luke Ridnour with 4:50 remaining.
But Williams scored on a drive in the lane and Horford converted a three-point play off an offensive rebound as the Hawks quickly pushed the lead to seven points.
“I think the main thing was just lack of focus, even myself,” Jennings said. “We were giving up a lot of buckets and we were hanging on the screens and not fighting through anything. It was just a tough night.”
The Bucks finished with a 28-13 home record despite losing their last two games at the Bradley Center, including their 105-90 loss to Boston on Saturday.
John Salmons led the Bucks with 28 points, while Jennings added 21 points and five assists but shot just 8 for 23 from the field.
Salmons said he wasn’t worried about consecutive defeats to the Celtics and Hawks, even though the Bucks know they will be facing one of them when the postseason opens.
“The regular season doesn’t have anything to do with the playoffs,” Salmons said. “Whoever we play, it’s going to be a tough series and we’re up to the challenge.”
The Hawks played without Crawford, the top candidate for the league’s sixth man of the year award. He was given the night off to rest by coach Mike Woodson.
But point guard Mike Bibby provided some early offense with 3 three-pointers late in the first quarter as Atlanta grabbed a nine-point lead. Bibby finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and Smith added 11 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots.