The two Eastern Conference teams left standing this season, the Bucks and Hawks, took very different paths to the conference semifinals.
Milwaukee, led by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and All-Star Khris Middleton, has made the playoffs for five straight seasons, making it as far as the Eastern Finals in 2019, but never quite getting over the hump. This represents the club’s best chance to break through and compete for a title for the first time in decades.
Atlanta, meanwhile, last made the Eastern Finals back in 2015, when current Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer was at the helm. That 60-win squad was slowly torn down over the next year or two as the Hawks entered a rebuilding process that saw the team win just 24, 29, and 20 games in the three seasons from 2017/18 to ’19/20.
Even with ascendant young players like Trae Young and John Collins leading the way, and several veteran free agents added to the roster in the 2020 offseason, this season’s Hawks appeared lottery-bound, getting off to a 14-20 start. However, since Nate McMillan replaced Lloyd Pierce as Atlanta’s head coach, this has looked like a different team. The Hawks finished the regular season by winning 27 of their last 38 games and have now made an unexpectedly deep postseason run, upsetting the Knicks and Sixers in the first two rounds.
The Bucks are built to win now, having traded several future draft picks last fall in a blockbuster deal for Jrue Holiday. They’ll enter the Eastern Finals as big favorites to win the series (they’re listed as -460 on BetOnline.ag). And after knocking off the Nets – who had been considered the championship frontrunners – anything short of an appearance in the NBA Finals will be considered a disappointmentin Milwaukee.
The Hawks’ season, on the other hand, is already a huge success, and that won’t change even if the team is swept by the Bucks. That doesn’t mean Atlanta will go down quietly though — this group showed during the second half of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs that it’s for real, and has the luxury of entering the Eastern Finals with the pressure relatively off. The Hawks are essentially playing with house money and shouldn’t have to carry the weight of a looming roster or coaching staff shakeup should they fall short of the NBA Finals.
With Game 1 set to tip off in a matter of hours, we want to get your thoughts on the Eastern Conference Finals. Do you expect the Bucks or Hawks to advance to the NBA Finals? How many games do you think it will take for a team to get to four wins? Do you expect the Eastern winner to ultimately take home the championship?
Vote below in our poll, then head to the comment section to share your thoughts!
Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.