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Magic vs. Bucks Preview: Jason Kidd suspended, Bucks desperate for answers on defense in visit to Orlando

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In six of their last seven games, the Milwaukee Bucks have given up at least 100 points. In four of their last five, they've given up at least 115. So yes, the problem is pretty clear.

Milwaukee will look to right the ship--or at the very least bail a little water--as they head back on the road to face the Orlando Magic and ex-Bucks coach Scott Skiles. The Magic have played well offensively in their last two games, with offensive ratings of at least 112 in each, but they're ranked just 23rd in offensive efficiency for the season.

Bucks Update

Milwaukee couldn't take advantage of the DeMarcus Cousins' absence in their 129-118 track-meet-loss to the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night because they decided it would be a good time to put forth the least defensive effort they have all season. The Kings torched Milwaukee for a 134.8 defensive rating, lighting up the scoreboard behind Rudy Gay's season-high 36 points and a terrific night from their bench. Sacramento hit 10 three-pointers and committed only 8 turnovers, showing that the Bucks can disappoint on defense in both familiar and unexpected ways.

Sacramento also hit 31 free throws on 37 attempts, which warrants a little more attention. The poor rebounding and failure to cover shooters are known quantities at this point, but Milwaukee is also one of the most foul-prone teams in the NBA, ranking 28th in defensive free-throw rate (.255). They have 9 players averaging at least two personal fouls per game--John Henson is fouling so often his per-36 average would actually get him disqualified!

Milwaukee's rank defensive free-throw rate is roughly equivalent to where they finished last season (25th), but in terms of magnitude they've slipped much farther. The NBA as a whole has been fouling at a slightly higher rate than last year through the first two-odd months, but the Bucks' have gotten considerably more hack-happy. While last season's squad was able to offset sub-par rebounding and foul rates with their exceptional ability to force turnovers, the decay across the board this season means Milwaukee is trying to compensate for way too many things at once.

Will the foul rate come down as, um, certain players continue to acclimate to the defensive system? Probably, though such a decrease might be equally likely simply via regression to the mean. As Eric Nehm highlighted a few weeks ago and we discussed in a recent podcast, the Bucks continually find themselves halfway home on defense, only to let their guard down and wind up scrambling a moment later. And "scrambling" is never a good look for a defense. It leads to (1) open shooters, (2) shooting fouls, and (3) missed defensive rebounds. Differential diagnosis complete.

Kidd Suspension Looming?

UPDATE: Jason Kidd has been suspended for tonight's game.

There's been no word yet on what sort of repercussions head coach Jason Kidd is likely to suffer in response to his outburst late in Wednesday's game. A suspension and hefty fine seems likely, but it might not be handed down soon enough to take effect for tonight's matchup. Well keep an eye out as things get closer to tip.

Magic Scouting Report

Shockingly, the Magic have seen substantial improvement on defense under new coach Scott Skiles. They've jumped from 24th to 12th behind a massive drop in opponent shooting percentage. Skies predictably has the Magic contesting shots with ferocity this season, aided by a roster stocked with talented defenders like Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, and Aaron Gordon.

Thankfully for the Bucks, Orlando remains mired in the bottom-third on offense, owing to poor shooting and an inability to consistently get to the free-throw line. Starting wings Evan Fournier and Tobias Harris have scored efficiently this season, but the Magic's two top guards, Payton and Oladipo, both have true shooting percentages below 46%. Oladipo is the Magic's second-most-prolific three-point shooter but is hitting just 26% of his shoots from behind the arc.

Looking to mix things up a bit against the New York Knicks Wednesday night, Orlando made a change to their usual rotation by sending Oladipo into a reserve role and moving Channing Frye into the starting lineup. That gave the Magic a ton of size (Payton, at 6'4", was the shortest starter) and better floor-spacing, and it paid instant dividends. The Magic held New York to 37% shooting, and Oladipo flourished in his ball-dominant bench spot, scoring 24 points largely at the charity stripe. Against a Bucks starting lineup that boasts similarly imposing size, don't be surprised to see Orlando stick with what worked last time. Milwaukee's bench has a few more threatening weapons than New York's, so hopefully they'll be able to exploit that balance more than the Knicks managed.

Daily Fantasy Tip

Not much to like in this one. identifies Khris Middleton as the best overall value of anybody playing in this game, but that has more to do with his depressed price than an expectation of big numbers. Middleton has been a consistent scorer and he won't hurt you with negative plays, but I'd be more inclined to gamble on someone with higher upside. The Magic have too many strong wing defenders, and Khris just isn't factoring into the Bucks' gameplan enough to feel good about getting a ton of production out of him tonight.

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(Editor's Note: all the opinions expressed here are my own. FanDuel gave me some cash to play daily fantasy games)

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2015/16 NBA Season
Orlando magic.v9ba0e1f
(7-8, 5-3 home)
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(6-9, 2-5 road)
November 27, 2015
Amway Center | Orlando, FL
6:00 CT
NBATV | Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Elfrid Payton PG Michael Carter-Williams
Evan Fournier SG Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris SF Giannis Antetokounmpo
Channing Frye PF Jabari Parker
Nikola Vucevic C Greg Monroe
2014/15 Advanced Stats
95.6 (20th) Pace 92.2 (30th)
102.3 (23rd) ORtg 105.2 (9th)
103.0 (12th) DRtg 112.9 (30th)