A return flight home and three days off figured to be exactly what the Milwaukee Bucks needed after back-to-back road losses in Dallas and Oklahoma City. As for a Saturday night matchup with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the mighty Los Angeles Clippers? Well, that part they could have probably done without.
The 16-6 Clippers finish up a three-game Eastern road trip in Milwaukee on Saturday night, a trip that began in Indiana on Wednesday with a 103-96 win -- the Clippers ninth win in a row. But L.A.'s streaking ways took a hit in Washington on Friday night thanks to John Wall, Bradley Beal and company, who raced to an early lead and never looked back in a 104-96 win. The Clippers were lethargic early and spent most of the game down double digits, so they won't be lacking in motivation on the second night of their back-to-back. Neither will the Bucks, who figure to be fresh physically. But rest doesn't always translate into sharpness, something the Bucks will need plenty of against one of the West's obvious title contenders.
Clips' offense. Though the Clippers' defense is only one spot below the Bucks' 12th ranked D, it will surprise no one that L.A. is fundamentally built around their high-octane (and third-ranked) offense. Chris Paul is as good as ever (18.0 ppg, 9.9 apg, 61.2% true shooting, 26.4 PER), while Blake Griffin continues to put up Blake Griffin numbers (23.2 ppg, 56% true shooting) despite relying more than ever on his jumper. Thus far 37% of Griffin's shot attempts have been long twos, up from a previous career-high of 27% last season. The upside is that he's fairly dangerous from out there (39%), though it's probably not a coincidence that his free throw rate and dunks are career-lows (but still fantastic, mind you).
The good news is that the Clips can still shoot the lights out, ranking among the league's top five in three point attempts, makes and accuracy. Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Jordan Farmar all average at least one triple per game -- for what it's worth, Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo are the only Bucks in that category. That's important since they curiously rank dead last in attempts inside three feet, a rather weird stat for a team that features league dunk leader DeAndre Jordan (64) and that Griffin guy (28). But while those two make it no surprise that L.A. leads the league in shooting percentage at the rim (65.7%), they're overall near the bottom in points scored in the restricted area.
Bucks' defense. Though Jason Kidd has seen his offense make major strides since the season's first two weeks, Milwaukee's defense has mostly gone in the tank. Kidd not surprisingly made the team's defensive effort a major emphasis during the Bucks' off-day practices this week, and the Clips figure to be a stiff test of whether or not they fixed anything. The good news is that L.A. ranks last in the league in offensive rebounding, an area where the Bucks have been regularly hammered in recent weeks. The bad news is that L.A. makes enough shots that they usually don't have that many misses to collect in the first place.
Among the key matchups tonight will obviously be the Bucks' strategy for containing Griffin, who nominally will match up with Jabari Parker but figures to see plenty of other bodies sent his way. I wouldn't be surprised to see Giannis Antetokounmpo match up with Blake as much or more as Parker, who's generally been the team's weakest defender among the regular rotation guys. Fun fact in Jabari's favor: He's still fifth in the league in dunks (40), 12 ahead of Blake.
|2014/2015 NBA Season|
|December 13, 2014|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Chris Paul||PG||Brandon Knight|
|J.J. Redick||SG||O.J. Mayo|
|Matt Barnes||SF||Giannis Antetokounmpo|
|Blake Griffin||PF||Jabari Parker|
|DeAndre Jordan||C||Larry Sanders|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|93.9 (8th)||Pace||93.6 (15th)|
|112.7 (3rd)||ORtg||103.6 (22nd)|
|105.6 (13th)||DRtg||105.4 (12th)