What's that? Khris Middleton scored 30 points again? Ho hum, stuff like this isn't really news anymore.
The Milwaukee Bucks made it a 2-1 homestand with a hard-fought 97-91 victory over the Orlando Magic last night, thanks in large part to Middleton's sensational play. The Bucks' sharpshooter hit 12 of 17 shots, including all four of his three-point attempts, in matching the career high he set just days ago. Middleton's play was critical in keeping the game close when the Bucks seemed to be trying their hardest to give it away at times--Milwaukee coughed up 23 turnovers in the game, squandering in large part the significant advantage they had in shooting efficiency. But to their credit, when the Bucks absolutely needed a basket late in the game to secure the win, they executed beautifully to set up Giannis Antetokounmpo for the dagger dunk.
Milwaukee is surely going to need sharper execution tonight when they take on the Indiana Pacers, owners of the Eastern Conference's longest winning streak at six games. That stretch does include a pair of games versus the Knicks and one against the 76ers, but they've also beaten the Cavaliers and Bulls and they destroyed the Magic on Tuesday. During the streak Indiana has an absurd +18.7 pts/100 efficiency differential.
Rodney Stuckey has been key to Indiana's offense lately, averaging 18.5 points per game during the winning streak including 34 in the Pacers' rout of Orlando. Stuckey's scoring off the bench augments a starting lineup for Indiana that's a little light on scoring in the backcourt but still includes two formidable big men in David West and Roy Hibbert.
Indiana has clear designs on the playoffs and they've now pushed past the Miami Heat for the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks' floundering over the past few weeks has narrowed their lead on the Pacers to just 4.5 games. With Paul George's return from a broken leg growing nearer by the day -- he's targeting a return this month -- Indiana should be playing its best basketball late in the season. When healthy, this is a team that could perform well above its playoff seed.
O.J. Mayo made his return against the Magic last night and played 10 minutes off the bench. He should be available again tonight but could again see limited minutes. Jerryd Bayless sat out the contest with an ankle injury and is questionable for tonight's game.
UPDATE: O.J. Mayo is out tonight. Hamstrings remain the trickiest of injuries.
Bucks guard O.J. Mayo re-aggravated his hamstring Wed night vs Magic and won't play tonight.— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) March 12, 2015
Hibbert and C.J. Miles are both listed as day-to-day on Indiana's injury report. Miles missed the Pacers' game on Tuesday, but both players are expected to suit up against Milwaukee.
Roy Hibbert is questionable for tonight vs #Bucks. Hibbert has in infection in his left elbow.— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) March 12, 2015
UPDATE (4:17 p.m.): Roy Hibbert is out. C.J. Miles is a game-time decision but is probable.
Roy Hibbert is out tonight.— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) March 12, 2015
This shouldn't come as much of a shocker, but Indiana doesn't really jump out offensively in any of the four factor categories. Defensively, they are tied for third in opponent effective field-goal percentage (47.6) and opponent offensive rebound percentage (22.4). It's no secret that the Pacers hang their hat on defense, so Milwaukee likely won't generate a ton of second chance opportunities, particularly if Hibbert is healthy.
Additionally, Milwaukee has struggled to consistently knock down open looks since the trade deadline. Winning on a lukewarm shooting night isn't impossible, but the task will become a hell of a lot more difficult if Khris Middleton is the only reliable shooter. Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova, and the dinged up backcourt benchmates (Bayless and Mayo) will have to show up.
Key Matchup: David West vs. Ilyasova/Giannis/Henson/anyone else
Rodney Stuckey is sizzling and Roy Hibbert is gigantic, but David West is potentially problematic for the Bucks in multiple ways. First, he's strong and physical and could probably rip the thinner Bucks in half if he really wanted to. Secondly, he's still a somewhat dangerous option on those pick-and-pop plays where he catches on the elbow. The Bucks have struggled guarding guys in a more talented, but similar mold (think Pau Gasol and Anthony Davis, to a lesser extent).
It's silly to think that the Bucks will be able to stop this action completely, but if they can at least make it difficult to execute that should bode well. Indiana is in the bottom-third of the league in 3P% (though they did hit 17 in their last game), so their advantage in most games comes in or around the paint. If the Bucks can hang tight with them there, then they'll have a much better chance of leaving Indy with a win.
|2014/2015 NBA Season|
(34-30, 15-18 away)
|March 12, 2015|
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse | Indianapolis, IN
|FS Wisconsin | AM 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||George Hill|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Damjan Rudez|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Solomon Hill|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||David West|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Roy Hibbert|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|100.7 (23rd)||ORtg||100.1 (25th)|
|99.0 (2nd)||DRtg||100.2 (7th)|