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Jazz vs. Bucks Preview: Derrick Favors out for Jazz, Ersan Ilyasova expected back in starting five for Milwaukee

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The Jazz are 0-12 without Favors over the past two seasons. Can the Bucks make it 0-13?

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Jazz big man Derrick Favors is out due to personal reasons (insert Larry Sanders joke here).

Consider it a night of questions, starting with this one: For better or worse, will the Milwaukee Bucks ever escape the gravitational field of the .500 mark?

Jason Kidd's club has spent the entire season within three games of the .500 mark, which seems about right for a team that is 9-9 at home, 12-11 on the road, and 7-7 against the West. Their low point came at 2-4, but since then they've been two games over .500 on five different occasions and three games over .500 just once (10-7). Thursday night's encounter with the Jazz offers another opportunity to move back to two games above the even water mark, and at first glance the Jazz would seem ripe for defeat.

Well, maybe.

Jazz Update

Will the young Jazz be able to get over the hump?

That seems to be the operative question in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz's promising core of youngsters continues to mostly just tread water in the stacked Western Conference. We should start by saying there's lots of room for encouragement despite Utah's middling record. Gordon Hayward is emerging as a star after signing a $63 million deal last summer, putting up career-best numbers in scoring and by most efficiency metrics (19.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.1 apg, 57.3% true shooting). Meanwhile the young big man triumvirate of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert are all putting together career seasons, while 19-year-old lotto pick Dante Exum has flashed the sort of talent (if not the gaudy numbers) to suggest he could become a star in time.

Despite that, the Jazz have dropped five of six and are on track for only a marginally better season than last year's 25-57 squad, raising some questions about how well the Jazz's young pieces fit together and whether they can make the leap to playoff contention without adding some capable vets. In that sense their matchup tonight with the 21-20 Bucks is rather interesting; especially considering the Bucks' injury and suspension problems, it's difficult to argue that Kidd has had more talent at his disposal than Quin Snyder has in Utah. So is it simply a matter of Kidd's superior management skills, or a dash of veteran leadership that has made the difference?

Injuries

A few months after signing a $41 million extension, Alex Burks saw his season ended by a shoulder injury in December. First round pick Rodney Hood is also out after reaggravating a foot injury earlier this week.

No big news for the Bucks: Jabari Parker and Kendall Marshall are done for the season with ACL tears, though it was nice to see Jabari smiling in a suit behind the Bucks' bench on Monday. Damien Inglis (foot surgery) is in a similar spot, while Larry Sanders is out for at least the next few weeks as he serves his drug suspension.

Four Factors

The Jazz aren't slouches offensively -- they rank 16th in offensive efficiency thanks in no small part to their work on the offensive glass (2nd in offensive rebound rate). That's bad news for the Bucks, who looked positively hopeless on the defensive boards against the Raptors on Monday and have generally struggled to prevent second chances all season.

Still, the Jazz can't win consistently because of their defense, which ranks 27th overall, 24th in eFG% and 27th in turnover rate. They don't concede many threes (5th in fewest attempts allowed), but opponents make them when they do (28th in percentage allowed). Stylistically, they're in the top half of the league in both fewest fast break and paint points (13th) per game, areas where the Bucks have generally been quite good.

Key Matchup: Jazz Bigs vs. Bucks...Not-So-Bigs

Will the Bucks be burned by another big team?

Though Milwaukee ranks sixth in opponent paint points (39.3) and an impressive fourth in overall defensive efficiency, they've been prone to struggling against teams that can substantially outmuscle them down low, and the Jazz's trio of big men would certainly seem capable of doing so tonight. Favors had some big games against Larry Sanders the past two seasons, and Ersan Ilyasova's return to the starting five won't do anything to aid the Bucks' lack of bulk and rim protection up front.

As a result, you'd expect the Bucks to throw their usual dose of double teams and swarming defense at Utah down low, a strategy that could pay off given the Jazz a) turn it over plenty (25th in turnover rate) and b) struggle to make opponents pay from deep (bottom third in three point makes, attempts and efficiency).

Required Reading

Grantland: Sanders situations the talk of the league
Zach Lowe writes that the Larry Sanders Saga has inspired plenty of talk around the league...and it's not exactly encouraging.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo reported over the weekend that the Bucks had not yet discussed a potential buyout with Sanders, but most league sources expect the discussion to eventually go that direction. It's tempting to suggest the Bucks ride this out for a bit. Sanders is one of the league's best rim protectors. His development on offense has stalled out, but he has some potential on that end as a Tyson Chandler Lite - a guy who screens, dives to the rim, and sucks help defenders in from the perimeter. He needs time (and possibly a hand transplant) to approach even 60 percent of Chandler's value on offense, but his contract is fair in basketball terms.

Milwaukee has a clean cap sheet going forward and no plans to rush its rebuild with a mega-free agency signing. Is the savings it might net in a buyout, plus lifting the Sanders pall from the locker room, worth the risk he might eventually thrive on another team? Maybe it is. The situation may well be worse than we realize.

Bucks.com: Hakeem Olajuwon on Giannis Antetokounmpo

He has what it takes, from what I see.

Now is the attitude and confidence and the belief to not be satisfied being average. Meaning scoring 10 points, 20 points, feeling he is able to average that.

And on defense to be a guy that size to block more shots, rebound – he's a complete player. Fantastic.

From what I see, I think he will have a wonderful, successful career, that his name will be remembered to have made a huge contribution to the league because he has a special talent – it's unusual to see someone of that size and with that skill.

So he can have a huge impact, IF he has the attitude to want to be a great player.

#SEEGIANNISDUNK
One more reason to care about All-Star weekend.

Joe Alexander speaks!

2014/2015 NBA Season
Uta
(14-28, 7-16 road)
vs.
Mil_medium
(21-20, 9-9 home)
January 22, 2015
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ | Audio League Pass
Probable Starters
Trey Burke PG Brandon Knight
Gordon Hayward SG Khris Middleton
Joe Ingles SF Giannis Antetokounmpo
Enes Kanter PF Ersan Ilyasova
Rudy Gobert C Zaza Pachulia
2014/15 Advanced Stats
90.4 (28th) Pace 93.8 (16th)
105.5 (16th) ORtg 103.4 (23rd)
109.5 (27th) DRtg 102.3 (4th)

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