Bucks vs. Rockets Preview: Milwaukee hopes to make it 2-for-2 on Texas trip

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a much-needed win in Dallas last night, the Bucks finish up their Texas two-step against James Harden and the Rockets in Houston.

2012/2013 NBA Season
Hou
(31-27, 19-8 home)
vs.
Mil_medium
(27-28, 13-14 road)
February 27, 2013
Toyota Center | Houston, TX
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Jeremy Lin PG Brandon Jennings
James Harden SG Monta Ellis
Chandler Parsons SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Donatas Motiejunas PF Ersan Ilyasova
Omer Asik C Larry Sanders
2012/13 Advanced Stats
96.9 (1st) Pace 94.4 (5th)
109.9 (4th) ORtg 102.9 (23rd)
107.0 (21st) DRtg 103.9 (9th)

On the Rockets: The Dream Shake | Ultimate Rockets | Clutch Fans

Rockets update. Houston has scored 100+ points in 13 of 14, the product of playing both fast (1st in pace) and effectively on the offensive end (4th in scoring efficiency). The Rockets were the latest victims of the suddenly-pretty-good Wizards on Saturday, snapping a two-game winning streak that saw them topple the Nets (on the road) and the mighty Thunder in James Harden's revenge game. They've had three days off since then, which could be bad news for a Bucks team pulling back-to-back duty.

The Bucks of course already know how explosive the Rockets can be, having dropped a 115-101 decision to Kevin McHale's squad at the Bradley Center on January 4. After leading by 10 at halftime, the Bucks utterly fell apart in the third quarter and Houston showed no mercy during a second half that saw them blitz the Bucks to the tune of 68-43. Harden had 29 on 18 shots to lead Houston, but it was former Buck Carlos Delfino who really turned the knife with six threes on his way to 22 points. Nice little vengeance game for Carlos, who felt a bit salty over the summer when the Bucks didn't attempt to re-sign him.

In general Houston does three things well: they can shoot, they get to the line, and they don't allow second chance points on defense. The Rockets lead the league in three pointers made and attempted, ranking eighth in percentage (36.8%) and fourth in eFG%. Add in Houston's proclivity for getting to the line (6th in FT/FGA) and it's not surprising that they rank fourth in the league in true shooting percentage (56.5%) and overall efficiency. In contrast, the Bucks don't have a single starter as efficient as the entire Rockets team (Ersan Ilyasova is closest at 54.0%).

Defensively they struggle--26th in eFG% allowed and 21st in efficiency--but they do rank 3rd in the league in defensive rebound rate. Much of that owes to former Bull Omer Asik, who leads all centers in defensive rebound rate (30.5% of all misses)

All eyes on Jennings. Brandon Jennings returned from the all-star break with a bang, scoring 65 points in the Bucks' home-and-home losses to the Nets. But something hasn't seemed right since the trade deadline passed on Thursday, as Jennings has shot just 7/22 and seen his minutes drop to "just" 31 mpg due to a combination of foul trouble (on Saturday) and ineffective play (both nights). It could just be another blip of Jennings' all-too-familiar inconsistency, but his apparent lack of enthusiasm for the Bucks' new three-guard rotation and his benching for the final three minutes last night will only further fuel speculation about whether he really wants to stay in Milwaukee past this summer. Get out your jump-to-conclusions mats, people!

Not that this is a bad thing in the grand scheme of the universe--consider it an important litmus test. After all, if Jennings can't handle being held accountable for his on-court struggles then there's little reason to even want him in a Bucks uniform long-term. But to date he's basically had free reign to do whatever he wants, which made Boylan's decision to go with Ellis, Redick and Dunleavy over Jennings as gutsy as it was obvious. I haven't seen any quotes from Jennings following last night's game, but Boylan's rationale was fairly straight-forward.

"I felt that group was playing well together," Boylan said. "I saw the game kind of slipping from us a little bit.

"I needed to get those guys out there again. I went back to J.J. and obviously it worked out for us."

It's a bit odd that Jennings' time would become "threatened" (if you can call it that) at a time when he's the only pure point guard on the Bucks' roster, but Beno Udrih's departure has forced Ellis into more regular minutes at the point--and so far, so good. Hopefully Jennings bounces back in short order, but if he doesn't then it's encouraging to see the Bucks not only have legitimate options other than Jennings on the court, but they also have a coach willing to use them as well. I haven't always agreed with Boylan's late-game strategies recently, but he got a big one right with Jennings in Dallas.

Sanders' D. There's absolutely nothing new about Larry Sanders being a defensive revelation, but we don't typically think of him as a guy who can lock down a perimeter big--especially one of the greatest of all time like Dirk Nowitzki. But let's be sure to note his excellent work on Dirk in the closing minutes last night, helping force two misses and a couple of turnovers after Dirk had gotten going shooting right over Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute.

Asset management. Daryl Morey might have pulled off another steal at the deadline last week, acquiring 2012 fifth overall pick Thomas Robinson from the ever-baffling Kings for a combo platter of good-but-never-likely-to-be-great youngsters including Patrick Patterson and Cole Adrlich. Robinson's struggles in Sacramento aren't exactly encouraging, but there's a reason he was a consensus top-five pick last year and he'll be available to make his Rockets debut tonight. He'll have to compete with a slew of other promising youngsters for front-court minutes in the short-term, with Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas getting his first career start tonight.

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