Bucks vs. Hawks picks: Who will win the Eastern Conference finals?

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When the Milwaukee Bucks finished with the NBA’s best record during the previous two seasons, they were widely expected to advance to the NBA Finals. But they fell woefully short both times.

In 2018-19, they had a 2-0 series lead against the Toronto Raptors and had a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead before losing Game 3 in overtime. That set the stage for the Raptors to win four straight and march into the Finals.

Then last season, the Bucks couldn’t get out of the second round and had to force overtime just to avoid a highly embarrassing four-game sweep to the Miami Heat.

Now, the Bucks have another golden chance to reach the Finals for the first time since 1971. Can they get there? Here’s our team’s predictions from USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt, Mark Medina and Matt Eppers, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Jim Owczarski.

The Hawks and Trae Young will face a tall order in trying to get past Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and the Bucks.
The Hawks and Trae Young will face a tall order in trying to get past Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and the Bucks.

ZILLGITT: Bucks in 7. There’s a lot to like about the Atlanta Hawks, starting with Trae Young, the job Nate McMillan did since taking over midseason and the overall competitiveness of the team. The Hawks don’t lack confidence, and they’re not here by a fluke. But Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and the rest of the Bucks have been pounding on the NBA Finals door, and this is their best chance to enter. Milwaukee takes advantage of the opportunity.

MEDINA: Bucks in 6. Finally, the Milwaukee Bucks have figured out how to navigate a competitive Eastern Conference landscape. The Atlanta Hawks may have overachieved expectations, but they don’t have enough to match the Bucks’ best player (Giannis Antetokounmpo), a trusty sidekick (Khris Middleton) and strong defenders (Jrue Holiday, P.J. Tucker).

EPPERS: Bucks in 5. Milwaukee has the edge at nearly every position, including the best player in the series in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and that should be enough to secure a spot in the NBA Finals. Trae Young will likely find ways to score, but the Bucks have the length and athleticism defensively to slow him. The Bucks also have room to improve on the offensive end after an up-and-down series against the Nets in the second round.

OWCZARSKI: Bucks in 5. Milwaukee and Atlanta may have spent a ton of energy getting to this same point, but the Bucks are a healthier team, have a deeper starting lineup and more options on both ends of the court to stifle Trae Young and the Hawks’ shooters.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bucks vs. Hawks picks: Can Atlanta continue it's magical run into Finals?