Bucks vs. Cavaliers Preview: Snubbed Jennings gets a shot at all-star Kyrie Irving

USA TODAY Sports

A month after suffering a humbling loss to the Cavs at home, the Bucks return to Cleveland looking to make it three wins in four tries over newly-minted all-star Kyrie Irving and company. Think Brandon Jennings might be motivated to prove the coaches' vote wrong? Yeah, just a bit.

2012/2013 NBA Season
Mil_medium
(22-18, 11-9 away)
vs.
Cle
(11-32, 5-12 home)
January 25, 2012
Quicken Loans Arena | Cleveland, OH
6:30 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Brandon Jennings PG Kyrie Irving
Monta Ellis SG Dion Waiters
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute SF Alonzo Gee
Ersan Ilyasova
PF Tyler Zeller
Larry Sanders C Tristan Thompson
2012/13 Advanced Stats
94.1 (5th) Pace 91.9 (12th)
102.5 (25th) ORtg 103.0 (22nd)
103.3 (8th) DRtg 108.7 (27th)

On the Cavaliers: Fear the Sword | Waiting for Next Year | Cavs the Blog | Bucks Game Notes

All-stars. There's little debate that Kyrie Irving has the game of a perennial all-star, and last night it became official. Despite the Cavaliers' mighty struggles in the standings, Irving's individual brilliance was rewarded with his first all-star selection. His performances this week certainly didn't hurt his cause: Irving exploded for 40 points on 24 shots against Rajon Rondo's Celtics and 31 points against Damian Lillard in Portland, both coming in wins which cemented Irving's all-star credentials. Overall Cleveland is hardly rocking at 11-32, but two wins in their last three games suggests Byron Scott's young team isn't rolling over either.

The coaches' selection of Irving and Philly's Jrue Holiday as all-star reserves unfortunately meant there was once again no room for Brandon Jennings on the East's squad, which is a shame in many ways. Jennings has been elevating his game and playing a big part in the Bucks' recent surge to the 7th spot in the East, something that Holiday and Irving can only aspire to for now. But Jennings' numbers don't stack up favorably against Holiday and fall well short of Irving's in both raw scoring and efficiency, and it appears the numbers game won out. It's easy to feel slighted by the "Milwaukee effect" as well, but personally I wouldn't consider this an affront to decency and justice--and if there is a big market bias in all-star voting, you couldn't tell from the exclusion of Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. Most of Williams' numbers are better than Jennings' as well, but you don't hear too many complaints about his "snub" even with the Nets third in the East.

All that said, you can't blame Jennings for feeling disappointed; it would have meant plenty for Jennings to earn the Bucks' first all-star berth since Mike Redd way back in 2004, both for Jennings and the Bucks as an organization. The silver lining is that his "snub" could save the Bucks a couple million bucks this summer when they're trying to re-sign him. One less point of leverage for agent Bill Duffy, right? The hope is that Jennings uses it as motivation to prove the skeptics wrong the rest of the season, a tactic we've seen Jennings use previously to motivate himself. But for some reason the opposite was true a year ago, as Jennings' play went in the tank right before the all-star announcements and then continued after he failed to make the East squad. There appeared to be more going on behind the scenes at the time, but it never became clear exactly what was distracting Jennings. Let's hope it doesn't happen again, though it bears repeating that Jennings has historically always struggled in February for whatever reason.

Tristan steps up. Losing double-double machine Anderson Varejao for the year was a serious blow to Cleveland's hopes of scraping together a respectable second half of the season, but Varejao's extended absence has at least given second year big man Tristan Thompson an opportunity to shine. The 2011 fourth overall pick is dropping 14.6 ppg (51.1% fg, 62.4% ft) and 11.7 rpg this month and has cracked double-figures in scoring in ten straight games, which should make for a good matchup with fellow emerging big man Larry Sanders. While Tyler Zeller could be considered a center by many, I'd have to expect Sanders and Thompson will matchup down low while Ersan Ilyasova will presumably face off against the less physical Zeller, who has been thrust into the starting five with Varejao out.

Zeller has been regularly playing 30+ minutes of late and has recorded two consecutive double-digit rebound games, but his overall numbers remain mediocre (41% shooting 10.7 PER), especially compared to fellow North Carolina alum John Henson (48%, 17.6 PER). Zeller had the last laugh back in December, however, notching his second career double-double (11 pts albeit on 4/14 shooting, 10 rebs) while Henson played just four minutes in the Cavaliers' dispiriting 94-82 beatdown of the Bucks at the Bradley Center.

Trading up. The Cavaliers supplemented their bench and added a future first round pick earlier this week, acquiring Marreese Speights, Josh Selby, Wayne Ellington and a protected 2015 first round pick from Memphis in exchange for former Buck Jon Leuer. The move was purely cap-motivated for Memphis, which had been looking to cut salary in order to remain under the all-important luxury tax and avoid having to deal one of their bigger names (read: Rudy Gay) this season. By virtue of having surplus roster spots, the Cavs were able to add a couple decent bench players and a future pick for facilitating Memphis' tax management. It's the kind of asset stockpiling that every team in Cleveland's position (or the Bucks for that matter) should do, and it could help Cleveland against the Bucks--Speights has already vexed the Bucks twice this season, first in the preseason and back in November when Memphis hammered the Bucks in Milwaukee (18 pts, 9 rebs).

Ersanity returns? Here's a weird stat: no one in the NBA had put together back-to-back games of at least 27 points and 14 boards before Ilyasova did it against the Blazers and Sixers earlier this week. Good times, and hopefully indicative of the "old" Ersan being back for good (not that we haven't had some false starts along the way).

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