The Milwaukee Bucks desperately want to get back on a winning track at home. The Detroit Pistons just want to stay on the winning track they're already on.
The Pistons are 12-3 since waiving Josh Smith, rocketing them to 10th in the East and within one game of Brooklyn for the eighth and final playoff spot. Hopefully Jason Kidd's troops are paying attention, because two more home losses this week leaves the 6th seeded Bucks a not-altogether-comfortable 4.0 games up on the 9th seeded Hornets and 4.5 games up on the Pistons.
The Bucks still have the benefit of the Nets and Heat treading water between them and the chasing pack, but with three months left in the season there's still a ton to play for. That's especially true at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, where Milwaukee will play 22 of their final 40 games but have won just one of their last seven games. Kidd's normally steady reserves were largely to blame for giving up an 11-point second half lead against the Jazz on Thursday, and despite a late surge they couldn't get over the hump in a 101-99 loss.
Stan Van Gundy's club was a miserable 5-23 on December 22, the fateful day that Detroit opted to waive Smith and eat the $30+ million owed to him through 2017. They've been a different team since then, with Brandon Jennings rediscovering top form and Greg Monroe (16.8 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 58.5% true shooting) and Andre Drummond (11.8 ppg, 13.8 rpg) each averaging double-doubles in the month of January. Containing Drummond and Monroe figures to be job one for the Bucks tonight, no small task considering the Bucks are thin up front and haven't had much luck stopping them before.
No real news for the Bucks. Larry Sanders (suspension) is back to tweeting cryptically, but otherwise out until at least February 7 and maybe a lot longer. On the plus side, Kendall Marshall seems to be in good spirits ahead of reconstructive surgery on his torn ACL.
GREAT spirits, doin my pre-rehab before surgery, still supportin the team RT @Chapel_Thrill: Hope you're in good spirits .. Praying for you!— Kendall Marshall (@KButter5) January 24, 2015
The Pistons could have everyone available tonight, as Kyle Singler (questionable with a nasal fracture) is the only name on their injury report but still listed as a probable starter by the Pistons PR folks.
The Pistons' advanced numbers don't look like anything special overall, but over the past month? Good lord. Van Gundy's club has ranked among the league's best in basically everything over the past month: Top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, while ranking top ten in eFG%, own and opponent turnover rates, and own and opponent rebound rates. How a team goes from doormat to juggernaut by getting rid of one guy goes way beyond mere addition by subtraction, though the Bucks are no strangers to unexpected turnarounds themselves.
Key Matchup: Jennings vs. Knight
Jennings is having one of those spells, averaging 21.3 ppg and 7.5 apg on 56.3% shooting in January including a 24-point, 21-assist night against the Magic on Wednesday -- the first 20-20 night since Steve Nash turned the trick over five years ago (related: Ramon Sessions!). Whether he can sustain it is a separate question, but he might finally be putting together a month to rival his incredible first month in the NBA. It's a stark contrast to the guy we saw while Smith was around (12.3 ppg, 36.8% shooting), adding further intrigue to his matchup tonight with the man he was traded for 16 months ago.
Speaking of Brandon Knight, few expected him to be making a case for the all-star game when Detroit gave up on him in the summer of 2013, but...well, he can at least make the case. I don't think Knight has done enough to win a spot in next month's midseason showcase -- too many turnovers, not enough assists for my taste -- but he's certainly making major strides for the second straight season.
|14/15 NBA Season|
|January 24, 2015|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI|
|Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Brandon Knight||PG||Brandon Jennings|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Kyle Singler|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||Greg Monroe|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Andre Drummond|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|103.5 (23rd)||ORtg||104.0 (21st)