The Atlanta Hawks play their first three games this week away from home. The team is already struggling and now will be without two starters for at least two of those games. Your best NBA bet then is likely against Atlanta until the two return.
The Atlanta Hawks were winless in three games last week, losing by eight in San Antonio (no shocker considering the Hawks haven't won there since Feb. 15, 1997), by 12 at home to Memphis and then 113-97 to visiting Portland on Saturday.
In that Blazers defeat, Atlanta held out forward Paul Millsap, still probably one of the most underrated players in the NBA even though he was an All-Star again this season, after he experienced tightness in his left knee during pregame warmups. The Hawks have ruled him out the first two games this week. Millsap, who is set to become a free agent this summer but likely to re-sign, is averaging 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.
Millsap is one of four players in the NBA averaging at least 17.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.0 bpg along with Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, New Orleans' DeMarcus Cousins and Golden State's Kevin Durant. The Hawks are 7-0 this season when Millsap scores at least 30 points. He joined Dominique Wilkins, Bob Pettit, Lou Hudson, Joe Johnson, Dikembe Mutombo and Cliff Hagan as the only players in franchise history to earn All-Star honors in four straight seasons.
Starting guard Kent Bazemore left in the fourth quarter against the Blazers with a bruised right knee. It was diagnosed as a bone bruise and Bazemore is out at least this week. He will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. Bazemore is averaging 11.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game this season and is a good defender.
The Hawks hadn't played a game this season with both Millsap and Bazemore out of the starting lineup. They had combined to miss only six games. Atlanta is 0-4 in the games Millsap has missed, losing by 2 (Suns), 16 (Blazers), 36 (Pistons) and 44 points (Raptors).
Ersan Ilyasova will start for Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. for Bazemore. Needless to say, that thins the bench. Mike Muscala and rookie Taurean Prince will likely see increased roles off the bench, and that's not exactly a good thing.
Atlanta visits Charlotte on Monday, Washington on Wednesday (ESPN national TV game) and Milwaukee on Friday, perhaps getting Millsap back for that one. Then Brooklyn visits Atlanta on Sunday. That's the only game this week in which the Hawks will be favored. Atlanta has been a decent road bet this season at 17-16 against the spread on NBA picks but lousy at home at 14-22 ATS.
A rough week could be costly as the Hawks are currently sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference standings but only four games ahead of No. 9 Detroit. Atlanta has made nine consecutive postseason trips, the longest stretch in franchise history and the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference.
Keep in mind, too, that Dwight Howard, who is having a good season in his hometown, has 12 technical fouls. Four more means a one-game suspension and then every two techs after that also mean a one-game bad. Howard is guaranteed to average a point/rebound double-double this this year, becoming one of six players in NBA history to do so in each of his first seasons.