Five days after outlasting a road weary Cavs team in double overtime in Milwaukee, the Bucks take center stage tonight in Cleveland in their first regular season TNT game since 2002. Related: the last 13 years haven't been much to write home about.
The good news: Jabari Parker (right foot sprain) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring) are back tonight, Parker returning to the starting lineup after missing Tuesday's ugly loss in Washington and Mayo expected to make his season debut. The bad news: the only thing tougher than beating the Cavs once? Beating them twice.
Parker's return to the starting five represents something of a best case scenario health-wise, especially after the scare provided by Monday's news that he was not traveling with the team on its current three-game road trip. As of this morning it's not clear what kind of minute limitations Parker might have going forward, though you'd assume the Bucks will play it safe. Considering he played 30 minutes on Saturday, I'd have to think the Bucks will target a lower number tonight, though ultimately that's a question for the Bucks' training staff. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc.
Meanwhile, Mayo's return will provide a welcome boost to the Bucks' bench, though it's also tough to bank on an immediate impact after three weeks on the sidelines. I'd also argue that the Bucks haven't missed Mayo as much as you might think -- Jerryd Bayless has played very well in his absence, including a 17-point effort against the Cavs on Saturday that also saw him help keep James scoreless over the final 3:15.
Speaking of which, the task of defending James will presumably fall mostly to Giannis Antetokounmpo tonight, though the Bucks (and my sanity) could also use an improved Giannis on the other end. Since scoring 20+ points in four of his first five games, Antetokounmpo is averaging just 12.8 points over the last five games, including a season-low 9 points on 3/13 shooting on Tuesday. The Leap we hoped we were seeing from Giannis in the first week of the season has become more of a stutter-step, though the two steps forward, one step back thing isn't exactly new. Just think back to last season: Giannis would add something to his game, then teams would adjust, then he'd make another adjustment himself. As long as he's making good progress in aggregate that's not a bad thing, though after a couple weeks of inefficient offense you'd hope/think he's due for something of a breakout soon.
Of course, doing it against James won't be easy -- Giannis didn't even try down the stretch against the King on Saturday -- but hopefully he can stay involved in ways beyond trying to take LeBron one-on-one. On Saturday he got into it early by crashing the offense boards for a trio of putbacks, then went after Kevin Love one-on-one in the second quarter. The Bucks forcing more turnovers and running more regularly would also help; they're dead last in pace right now and 25th in transition points (10.5 ppg) after ranking 9th (14.9 ppg) last season.
You don't put MCW, Giannis and Jabari on the court to slow the game down into a plodding halfcourt game, but so far the Bucks haven't quite hit their stride in terms of tempo. In 98 minutes together thus far, Giannis and Jabari lineups have played at a tortoise-like pace of 88.6 -- well below the Bucks' overall 94.2 pace that itself ranks dead last in the league. Interestingly it hasn't stopped them from being effective -- they're still +11.4 pts/100 together, but that's mainly because of their defense holding teams to an awesome (and likely unsustainable) 88 pts/100 possessions. Their 14.7 fast break points/48 are better than the Bucks' average, but you'd hope they could do even better.
Cavs Scouting Report
After seeing their eight-game winning streak snapped in Milwaukee, the Cavs lost again on Tuesday, dropping a 104-99 decision in Detroit. Afterwards James chided his team for being "too nice," though it's hardly time to panic -- the Cavs will eventually get Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert back, and given their overall talent level they can probably sleepwalk their way to the #1 seed in the East.
Still, David Blatt is likely wary of complacency, especially after the Cavs puttered around to a 19-20 record to start last season before turning it on in the season's second half. LeBron is LeBron and Kevin Love has shown signs of life, including a 24/14 double-double in Milwaukee. But consistency from the bench units has been tougher to come by, and the Cavs could also be missing Irving's replacement Mo Williams tonight (lower leg soreness).
In case you missed it, earlier this week Eric Nehm and I recorded two podcasts -- one looking at the Bucks' defensive struggles and offensive identity, the second discussing what we've seen so far from Jabari Parker, MCW and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Listen below to learn the secrets of the known universe...or at least some interesting stuff about the Bucks. Yeah, probably more of the latter.
Hi there. Here are 10 numbers (5 good, 5 not) about the local professional basketball team. https://t.co/0IFPgOPi9N— Alex Boeder (@alexboeder) November 18, 2015
Bucks appear on TNT for 1st time tonight since Dec 5, 2002 vs Atlanta Hawks. Bucks starters: Cassell, Redd, Thomas, Mason, Gadzuric.— Paul Henning (@brewcitypaul) November 19, 2015
Mo Williams is questionable tonight vs MIL with a sore lower right leg, per the Cavs— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) November 19, 2015
|15/16 NBA Season|
|November 19, 2015|
|Quicken Loans Center | Cleveland|
|TNT | 620 WTMJ|
|Mo Williams (q)||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|
|94.2 (27th)||Pace||91.9 (30th)|
|106.7 (5th)||ORtg||103.2 (16th)|
|100.4 (9th)||DRtg||109.6 (29th)|