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Cavs vs. Bucks Preview: Jabari Parker back, MCW starts as Bucks face against LeBron and Co.

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The Bucks have yet to beat a good team. On Saturday they face one of the best.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: MCW will indeed start tonight, with Tyler Ennis dropping from the starting five to the inactive list.

Back-to-back losses against the Celtics and Nuggets confirmed what we feared/suspected: the 15/16 Milwaukee Bucks still have a ways to go.

After beating up on the dregs of the Eastern Conference during a four-game winning streak, the Bucks were dealt a reality check in their blowout home loss to Boston, then fell just short in Wednesday's almost-but-not-quite comeback in Denver. And now comes the hard part: a five game stretch featuring the Cavaliers twice, road games in Indiana and Washington, and a tricky home fixture against the Pistons. It's very possible the Bucks could be 4-10 before things soften up against the Kings, Magic, and Hornets (twice), so there's never been a better time to start playing some vaguely consistent basketball.

Bucks Update

Let's start with some good news: Jabari Parker will be back tonight after a rest day on the second night of a back-to-back in Denver, while Michael Carter-Williams reclaims his spot in the starting lineup after missing the last five games (ankle). The latter is especially good news for a Bucks defense that has yet to rediscover the constructive chaos of a year ago, and this is the first time the Bucks will play Carter-Williams, Parker, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Greg Monroe together in an actual game.

Considering he just turned 21 and missed the entire offseason with shoulder surgery, Tyler Ennis has been fine as a role-playing starter in MCW's absence, though his seven assists and six turnovers in 81 minutes say plenty about his rather uninvolved role in the Bucks' offense. Speaking of which, it's probably a good sign that the Bucks have managed to rank 10th in offensive efficiency despite an injury-riddled start from MCW and a mostly-miserable shooting fortnight frm Greivis Vasquez. I'm not saying any of them are better players than Brandon Knight -- far from it -- but the Bucks' attempts to build an offense less reliant on the point guard position has begun to pay dividends with Greg Monroe and Giannis Antetokounmpo carrying most of the load offensively. I'm not sure they can sustain things at quite this level, but -- provided they're reasonably healthy -- there's no reason they should be a bottom third team again.

Speaking of Giannis, hopefully a matchup with LeBron can bring out the best in him. He's endured a frustrating week racked by foul trouble, and will obviously have his plate full when matched up with James tonight. But he usually seems to amp up his game a bit against great players, so hopefully that means a return to the more consistent form he showed in the first week of the season.

Now how about that defense? After seeing steady progress during their four-game streak over some of the league's bottom feeders, the Bucks remain an ugly 28th heading into tonight's game. Teams are no longer destroying them from deep (they're now allowing only 32.5% from three, 9th overall), but they're getting positively obliterated on the glass, with opponents averaging around three more shots at the rim per game despite a slower overall pace.

As bad as they were last year, their defensive rebound rate is 6% worse than where they were a season ago and the same amount worse than the next worst team in the NBA. Moreover, while they're still 9th in opponent turnover rate, they're off the league-leading levels they saw a year ago, which means more possession ending in shots, which are more likely to lead to second-chance points, etc. The Bucks have outrebounded an opponent just once all season -- a razor-thin 36-35 edge in Brooklyn -- and they've yet to collect more offensive rebounds than their opponent in any game. Granted, no individual player is going to fix those issues, though it will be interesting to see if the return of MCW's size and athleticism can give the Bucks a shot in the arm on the defensive end.

Cavs Scouting Report

Forget the Browns, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Clinic. Everything in Cleveland still begins with LeBron James, who if needed can probably play the jazz flute, remove your appendix and catch touchdown passes all at once. After all, no one does as many things as well as James, who remains all-universe despite early struggles from the perimeter (6/31 from three) and free throw line (62.3%). He's not quite prime Miami LeBron, but we've yet to see an appreciable drop-off from the soon-to-be 31-year-old King -- his PER (27.3), BPM (+9.1) and WS/48 (.245) are all up compared to last year.

Still, as good as the Cavs were last year after the all-star break, this season isn't simply a matter of rinse-and-repeat. Carter Rodriguez from Fear the Sword writes:

This season, it feels like Blatt has been able to put his stamp on the team. He's using Kevin Love more creatively, and even though his field goal percentage isn't showing it, it's a good thing for the offense. The team's assist rate ranked tied for eighth last year, and it's up to fourth so far in the 2015-16 season. The team is having more of those Spursgasm-esque sequences that go such a long way towards keeping the entire team in rhythm, and it's showing. The role players aren't merely decoys or spacers, but active participants in the offense, and it's seemingly keeping them ready to contribute.

The scary part is that the Cavs should get even better over the next few months. Kyrie Irving doesn't appear particularly close to returning from the knee injury that short-circuited Cleveland's finals, but Mo Williams has been excellent in his stead, reprising his role from the 08/09-era Cavs with 16.9 points, 5.2 assists, just 2.1 turnovers  and 62% true shooting. Meanwhile, Kevin Love is rebounding like a beast (11.9 rpg) but hasn't shot the ball consistently (30.6% from deep), Timo Mozgov hasn't regained his form yet after offseason knee surgery, and Iman Shumpert has yet to play following wrist surgery.

All told, the Cavs have been good to great in most phases  of the game, winning eight straight since an opening night loss, including a 90-84 comeback win over the Knicks in New York last night. The one exception is that they don't force many turnovers, but they score efficiently  -- especially inside the arc -- while taking care of the ball (7th in TO%) and have done well on the glass, ranking 11th in offensive rebound rate and 5th in defensive rebound rate. That's not a promising sign for a Bucks team that's been obliterated on the boards, but that's hardly the only challenge facing Milwaukee tonight. The Bucks' proclivity for one terrible quarter per game could be all that's needed for Cleveland to take care of business tonight, so any hope of stealing a win figures to require a significantly more consistent effort than we've seen to date.

15/16 NBA Season
Cleveland cavaliers.va1408a9
(8-1, 2-1 road)
vs.
(4-5, 2-3 home)
November 11, 2015
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee
7:30 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Mo Williams PG Michael Carter-Williams
J.R. Smith SG Khris Middleton
LeBron James SF Giannis Antetokounmpo
Kevin Love PF Jabari Parker
Timofey Mozgov C Greg Monroe
15/16 Advanced Stats
94.6 (26th) Pace 92.2 (30th)
108.4 (3rd) ORtg 104.7 (10th)
99.6 (8th) DRtg 109.5 (28th)