Battle of (non-)Titans. The Bucks are a league-worst 2-11 at home and 5-21 overall, which means there may not be any scenario in which they're not the underdog. Except maybe tonight. Philly is a league-worst 1-11 away from the Wells Fargo Arena, which means (incredibly) they're the only team with a road winning percentage that's worse than the Bucks' home winning percentage. Does that mean the Bucks are actually...favorites?
Well, maybe. Philly had lost seven straight games before last night's 121-120 overtime win over the Nets, as the Sixers celebrated the return of presumptive rookie-of-the-year Michael Carter-Williams with their first win since the last time MCW donned a Sixer jersey (oh by the way, he notched a triple-double in that game). Evan Turner's breakout season continued with 29/10/5 including the game winning layup, Thad Young shrugged off a reported trade request to add 25, and MCW added 15 points and 10 assists in his action since a skin infection shelved him for two weeks.
MCW. While Turner's renaissance has been a major plus (19.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.0 apg), it's Carter-Williams who has been the key to the Sixers' on-court fortunes. Sure, MCW's stats are fantastic (17.5 ppg, 7.5 apg, 5.6 rpg, 3.1 stl), but his impact in the standings is just as impressive: the Sixers are 7-9 with him in the lineup and 1-10 without him, with a net differential of nearly eight points/100 possessions. He may still be struggling as a shooter (40.7% overall, 31.4% from deep and 49.3% in true shooting terms), but his length, quickness and passing instincts give him fantastic upside on both ends. His presence alone may keep the Sixers from a top-three finish, though his recent absence has kept the Sixers trending back towards the Eastern Conference basement--Philly trails only the Bucks, Jazz and Kings in the lotto standings. For now.
Starting 5. So who starts tonight for the Bucks?
Despite the return of O.J. Mayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo started for the second straight game last night in Cleveland, and for the second straight game the Bucks lost in overtime. It was the fourth loss in five OT games for the Bucks so far this season, and yes, that is a ton of OT games.
With 5 OTs in 26 gms, Bucks are on pace to play 15 OT games this year, which would be an NBA record. Bucks record is 10 (2009-10).
On the injury front, Caron Butler and Gary Neal are expected back after their recent absences, though it's not clear if any of that will help the Bucks, you know, win games. So, maybe it's OK? I don't know, interpret as you wish.
Either way, the Bucks getting healthier figures to (sadly) mean fewer minutes for Antetokounmpo, though Larry Drew's starters tonight will once again include the Greek teenager at shooting guard. The Sixers have been going a bit bigger at the wing spot of late with Turner joined by rookie 6'8" undrafted rookie Hollis Thompson, so on paper it's not a bad matchup. Hopefully Giannis manages to start more productively than in the last two games, both of which saw him pick up two fouls in the first six minutes and not record a point or shot in that span.
In other good news, John Henson is once again in the starting five despite missing overtime last night in Cleveland with a sore knee. He tweaked his knee after tripping on a fast break late in the fourth, but stayed in the game initially and notched his third staright double-double with 18 points and 10 boards. His December numbers remain impressive: 16.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 2.1 bpg on 54.1% shooting form the field and 63.6% from the stripe. Team MVP? Yep, team MVP. And it's really not even close right now.
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