The Bucks have lost six straight, the Sixers four, and in general there's some fitting about this game not being carried locally in Milwaukee tonight, right?
Sixers update. The Sixers have come back down to earth a bit after their shocking 3-0 start to the season, but in many ways that was always part of the plan. The best-case scenario for Sam Hinkie's club was seeing meaningful progress from the team's hodgepodge of young players without that translating into too many wins, and thus far the latter piece is working out rather nicely. Michael Carter-Williams has been a play-making dynamo on both ends (16.6 ppg/7.4 apg/2.3 spg), Evan Turner is putting up a 21.3 ppg/6.6 rpg/3.7 apg line (albeit with a ton of turnovers and generally weaker advanced metrics), Spencer Hawes is suddenly good and bargain bin youngsters Tony Wroten (a triple-double in his first start) and James Anderson (36 pts vs. Houston) actually look like NBA players. Former Spurs assistant Brett Brown has Philly playing fast (1st in pace) while wringing all he can from a young group of misfits and castaways, all of which has made the Sixers one of the most watchable teams of November.
Hurt locker. It wouldn't be a Bucks preview without a lengthy discussion of injuries, would it? Let's start with a general statement: EVERYONE IS SORE.
"I've got some guys that are banged up," Drew said. "Ersan (Ilyasova) is sore, Zaza (Pachulia) is sore, Luke is sore, Caron's (Butler) shoulder is sore. O.J. is sore after spraining his ankle, but he did participate in the shooting drills today. Ekpe's (Udoh) knee is a little sore. We have guys banged up and nicked up.
"Some of these injuries are more serious than others. We have three games in the next four days, so we have to make sure we can get guys healthy."
While Luke Ridnour (back) has returned and started in place of Nate Wolters on Wednesday, Andrew Gruman writes that Brandon Knight (hamstring) accompanied the team to Philadelphia but may not be ready to return just yet.
"I'm feeling good," Knight said. "It's getting better day by day and that's all you can really ask for. I'm getting treatment, doing all the things I need to do to take care of it.
"Hopefully I can make that progression to get back on the court sometime soon because I've been biting the bullet trying to emotionally support my team. It's draining when you see your team struggling."
Matchups. No word yet on whether Larry Drew may shake up his starting lineup, though it may depend a bit on Thad Young's availability for Philly. Young missed Wednesday's blowout loss to Toronto due to personal reasons and is listed as questionable for tonight. If he starts at power forward, Philly takes on an automatic small-ball look; if he doesn't, the Sixers may go big for the second straight game with Daniel Orton joining fellow center Hawes at the big positions.
Either way there's a good case for moving Ersan Ilyasova into the starting lineup and shifting Ekpe Udoh (fresh off 19 minutes in which he didn't record a point, rebound, block or steal) back to the bench. Which is saying something, because a) I really don't like the idea of a couple non-rim-protectors like Ersan and Zaza Pachulia playing together and b) Drew seems dead set against starting John Henson on general principle at this point, even if the second-year man is deservedly closing games. I'd love to trot out an Ersan/Henson starting combo just to see how it would work, but something tells me I'll be disappointed on that front. If the Sixers once again go with a big lineup, that'll hopefully mean an increased number of good perimeter looks for Ersan, who was predictably rusty but did move the ball well in his first game back on Wednesday (2/8 fg, 5 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast).
Reading list. I didn't agree with it 100% (maybe 95%), but I really enjoyed Jeremy's latest over at Bucksketball about the Bucks' minute distributions and who/what matters right now. I'm not sure there's been a harder time to have a normal conversation about the Bucks--their two most productive players have been injured for most of the first month, their most intriguing player doesn't regularly play, and a sizable portion of the fanbase doesn't want them to win games (or is at best indifferent).
As for the part I disagree with: while I don't expect Middleton to be a long-term impact player, his on/off numbers through 10 games have been simply mind-boggling and suggest his impact on the Bucks has been very positive. With Middleton on the court, the Bucks are a good team (+5 pts/100); with Middleton on the bench the Bucks are terrible on both ends (-28 pts/100!!!). The interesting part here is that the sample for both on and off court are about the same (200 minutes) and he's played in a bunch of different lineups, as both a starter and reserve, and at both forward spots. I can't imagine non-Middleton lineups will struggle anywhere close to this much going forward (seriously, -28 pts/100?), but if you want to talk about playing time it's obvious he's deserved it. It's a similar story for Nate Wolters, and here might be a big part of the equation: around 2/3 of Middleton's minutes have come with Wolters, and Wolters' relative numbers have been boosted by the fact that the Bucks generally haven't had an actual point guard on the court when he's been resting.