Good news: Anthony Davis does not play for the Orlando Magic!
Two days after coming out on the short end of the Davis-Giannis Show, the Bucks finish their three-game homestand tonight hoping for better results against the not-quite-ripe Magic.Winning tonight is particularly critical given the stretch of games that follow. The Bucks head to Indiana to take on the streaking Pacers on Thursday, followed by road games in Memphis and New Orleans before returning home to take on the Spurs next week. The seventh seeded Pacers have won six in a row after downing the Magic last night, in the process whittling the Bucks' edge for the six seed to four games.
But first thing's first: The Magic. The Bucks will be looking for a repeat of their visit to the Magic Kingdom on January 29, which saw them snap a 10-year losing streak in Orlando with an easy 115-100 win. To do it again they'll presumably need Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton to continue carrying the load. Giannis went off for a career-best 29 on Monday, MCW added a Bucks-best 25 and seven assists, and Middleton continues to impress in his expanded role since the Brandon Knight trade.
And while the Bucks haven't exactly set the world on fire since the all-star break, the good news is that the Giannis/MCW/Middleton trio is fitting together a bit better than you might think -- they've outscored opponents by 6.1 pts/100 possessions in 162 minutes thus far, and the current starting lineup is +12.0 pts/100 in 86 minutes. Much less impressive has been the once-reliable Bucks' bench, with Jerryd Bayless and Jared Dudley making plenty of appearances among the team's worst lineups.
Though they're are an encouraging 6-6 since interim coach James Borrego took over for the ousted Jacque Vaughn (15-37) on February 5, the Magic haven't exactly become world-beaters overnight. Their modest two-game winning streak was steamrolled in Indiana on Tuesday night 118-86, and they've been nearly 10 pts/100 possessions worse than their opponents in five March games thus far.
Still, the Magic have no shortage of young talent, with Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Nik Vucevic and Evan Fournier all between the ages of 19 and 24. They're dangerous when they're on, but that only seems to happen in fits and starts -- at least at the moment. On paper you could fashion an intriguing starting five out of that group, though whether they'll all develop into a cohesive team isn't entirely clear. With Vucevic already locked into a four-year, $54 million extension last October, Harris' impending restricted free agency figures to be the key decision point for the Magic and GM Rob Hennigan this summer, though the rest of the team's young core is still on rookie contracts. With the league's fifth worst record entering tonight's action, Orlando is also primed for yet another high lotto pick, though they've now been growing their stable for some time now without much to show for their efforts.
O.J. Mayo (hamstring) returned to practice on Tuesday, but he reported feeling soreness towards the end of the session and remains a question mark for tonight.
Evan Fournier (hip) and Devyn Marble (eye) are out, while former Bucks slayer Willie Green is questionable with back spasms.
Key Matchup: The Non-Shooting Point Guards
Michael Carter-Williams' perimeter shooting has been a major talking point since he landed in Milwaukee, and it's an even more extreme situation with Elfrid Payton in Orlando. The Magic's "other" lottery pick from the 2014 draft has only attempted 24 threes all season, and while he's made a vaguely respectable 36% of his long twos, he's also struggled as a finisher (51.5% at the rim) and from the foul line (54.7%).
Of course, Payton isn't starting because of his skills as a shooter; his size and physicality can be put to good use on both ends, which combined with his playmaking (7.6 apg and just 2.0 turnovers since the all-star break) leads to obvious comparisons to a young Rajon Rondo. Keeping him out of the paint will be key for MCW, especially after the Bucks struggled to do the same with Tyreke Evans on Monday.
There's been a fair amount of angst about Brandon Knight's departure, so this is probably also a good time to note that MCW's efficiency numbers (18.2 PER, 55% true shooting) have taken a substantial boost since arriving from Philly. While his three point shooting remains an obvious concern (just 1/10 so far), he's still putting up 17.3 points, 7.8 assists and 2.2 steals per 36 minutes as a Buck, reiterating that Milwaukee's offensive problems have been more of a bench problem than a starters problem.
|14/15 NBA Season|
|March 11, 2015|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
|Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Elfrid Payton|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Victor Oladipo|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Tobias Harris|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||Dewayne Dedmon|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Nik Vucevic|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|