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Bucks vs. Hornets Preview: Milwaukee's search for defense continues with Sunday matinee in Charlotte

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Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: In a sign of how desperate things have become, Jason Kidd is benching MCW and Jabari Parker, while moving Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo into the starting five next to Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greg Monroe. On top of that, Greivis Vasquez will be inactive, presumably opening up minutes for Tyler Ennis.

On the bright side, the Milwaukee Bucks' and their 30th ranked defense are going to get better at some point. The bad news: for all we know, they might still get a bit worse before that happens.

Fresh off another second half collapse in Orlando, the 6-10 Bucks limp into Charlotte for a Sunday matinee with the improving Hornets, the front end of a back-to-back ending with Monday night's tilt against the Nuggets in Milwaukee.

Bucks Update

Friday's 114-90 loss to the Magic struck a depressingly familiar tone for Bucks fans: a competitive first half followed by a helpless third quarter in which the Bucks' defense was ripped to shreds by hot perimeter shooting and the Bucks' own sloppiness. The loss further entrenched Milwaukee's defense in last place, a position positively no one expected them to be in after last year's top five finish.

But here they are, and neither Zaza Pachulia nor Jared Dudley is walking through the door to whip them into shape. Instead, that job falls to Jason Kidd, Sean Sweeney and the guys actually wearing the uniforms this year, the vast majority of whom also happened to be part of the roster a year ago. While they've struggled beyond reason to collect defensive rebounds, the scary part about the past week has been how easily teams are making shots, particularly from deep. The Bucks have now allowed 60% or better eFG% in five of their last six games -- a figure they allowed just seven times in 82 games last year.

Offensively the story is much more promising, though the Bucks' 13th overall ranking in offensive efficiency is largely a tale of two halves. They're third in the league in first half efficiency but just 27th thereafter, with the ongoing struggles of Michael Carter-Williams (nine turnovers, 1/10 shooting, just six assists in the last two games) the easy target for their recent inconsistency. There's been no indication yet that Kidd is going to change the starting five (read: benching MCW), though you'd have to think all options will be on the table if their slide continues. Unfortunately, it'll take much more than benching one guy to solve the Bucks' defensive problems -- there aren't any lineups that seem to be working for Milwaukee right now, hinting at broader issues related to their defensive cohesion and the fact that opponents have figured out how to attack their overloading schemes.

On Saturday the Bucks managed to replicate at least one thing from last season -- a team movie night.

Will some off-court bonding help on the court? We'll find out soon enough.

Hornets Scouting Report

Many wrote off the Hornets' playoff chances when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down with a major shoulder injury in October, but Steve Clifford and company are proving their two-way depth was serially underrated. While Clifford has always carried the reputation of being a defense-first coach, the Hornets enter Sunday's game a highly impressive 6th in offensive efficiency in addition to ranking a predictably solid 11th in defensive efficiency. They're 4-1 on their current seven-game homestand after Friday's 95-90 loss to the Cavs, though they won their previous four by nearly 13 points per game.

Al Jefferson remains a major (if slowly declining) factor in the post, but the Hornets have diversified nicely around him -- both Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum score more per game than Big Al, and with four shooters around Jefferson they do plenty of damage from three (sixth in makes, seventh in attempts) while also excelling at taking care of the ball (1st in TO%). That combination could be a nightmare for a Bucks team that relies on turnovers for stops and has hemorrhaged threes over the past six games, but so it goes.

Walker is putting up his usual raw numbers (18.2 ppg, 5.1 apg) but doing it in far more efficient fashion: after posting true shooting marks under 50% the past two seasons, he's up to an impressive 55.9% this season thanks in large part to much-improved finishing (63% vs. 49% last year) and shooting from deep (37.5% vs. 30.4%). Meanwhile, Batum has fit in nicely since arriving from Portland in June, scoring nearly 17 points per game on 58.5% true shooting while adding over six rebounds and nearly five assists per game.

Curiously, P.J. Hairston has started 13 of 16 games at shooting guard despite being vastly outplayed by a much-improved Jeremy Lamb, which is all the weirder when you consider that Lamb got an extension in October (three years, $21 million) while Hairston had the third year of his rookie deal declined by the team. Clifford has the common sense not to play Hairston big minutes, though to my eyes it seems odd that he's even playing 18 minutes a night when a) he's shooting 32% from the field and b) the team already indicated they don't want to keep him beyond this season. The upside for Clifford is that Hairston's presence hasn't stopped the Hornets' starting five from outscoring opponents by nearly 13 points/100 possessions thus far.

Besides, bringing Lamb off the bench also plays into the Hornets' secret weapon: depth. The two Jeremys (Lamb and Lin) both provide double-digit scoring off the bench, though Lamb's improved efficiency has helped obscure Lin's shooting struggles (40% overall, 29% from three). Clifford's other luxury is having skilled bigs like Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky among his reserves, enabling Clifford to reduce Jefferson's minutes to just 27 per game this year.

Two points working in the Bucks' favor: the Hornets don't put much of an effort into crashing the offensive glass (29th), nor have they proven much of a threat in transition so far (29th, 9.1 ppg). Note that the former is likely something of a tactical decision -- it's easier to get back on D when you aren't committing extra bodies on the offensive boards.

Hornets CoverageAt The Hive | Queen City Hoops

2015/16 NBA Season
Charlotte hornets.ve3a6f32
(9-7, 7-2 home)
vs.
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(6-10, 2-6 road)
November 29, 2015
Time Warner Cable Arena | Charlotte
1:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Kemba Walker PG Jerryd Bayless
P.J. Hairston SG O.J. Mayo
Nicolas Batum SF Khris Middleton
Marvin Williams PF Giannis Antetokounmpo
Al Jefferson C Greg Monroe
2014/15 Advanced Stats
96.7 (17th) Pace 92.7 (29th)
102.3 (23rd) ORtg 104.2 (13th)
103.0 (12th) DRtg 113.0 (30th)