If you're committed to the Milwaukee Bucks' playoff push this season, Thursday's overtime loss in Indiana was a tough blow. The Bucks had a chance to take the lead with 43 seconds remaining in the game, but Ersan Ilyasova missed the second of two free throws and the game slipped into overtime where the Pacers rolled. The loss dropped Milwaukee to just three games above .500 and just 3.5 games ahead of Indiana for the East's #6 seed.
Now the Bucks have a date with the Memphis Grizzlies, who've been stumbling much the same as Milwaukee in recent days but still boast the Western Conference's second-best record. Milwaukee needs a more complete performance if they're going to halt their road losing streak at seven games.
With the Mighty Bucks looming on their schedule, the Grizzlies knew they needed to do everything they could to get prepared. That meant giving many of their top players the night off against the Washington Wizards on Thursday, and the results did Milwaukee no favors. Washington routed Memphis 107-87, giving the Wizards a little more breathing room ahead of Miwaukee in the standings.
Memphis head coah Dave Joerger hopes the day off for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph can snap the Griz starters out of the slump that's sent them to three losses in their last four games, all on the road. But the bigger issue for Memphis is the possible absence of point guard Mike Conley, who suffered an ankle injury against Boston on Wednesday.
Overall though, it's been a tremendous season for the Grizzlies, currently projected to win 54 games according to ESPN's playoff odds. They play their own brand of inside-out basketball and play it well, standing in opposition to the perimeter-oriented offenses taking over the league.
Conley remains doubtful for the Grizzlies, who don't want to risk delaying their PG's recovery by rushing him back too quickly. The rest of Memphis's injury report is pretty clean with Gasol, Randolph, and reserve Tony Allen expected back in uniform for tonight.
O.J. Mayo and Jerryd Bayless each missed Thursday's game in Indianapolis but went through shootaround today and are game-time decisions. Mayo has been listed as probable according to ESPN.
True to form, the Grizzlies are fifth in defensive rating and 14th in offensive rating. That Memphis even scores as well as they do while largely ignoring the three-point line (they're 29th in three-point attempt rate) is a testament to their excellence on the interior and knack for drawing fouls (7th in free-throw rate). They're also in the top ten in both offensive and defensive turnover rate, and they rarely commit fouls themselves. What's a bit surprising is Memphis' unimpressive numbers on the glass, where they rank in the bottom half of the NBA on both ends.
Key Matchup: Frontcourt vs. Frontcourt
Key missed free throw aside, the Bucks's starting frontcourt played well against Indiana. Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia each recorded double-doubles and Ilyasova's 11-point fourth quarter was critical to Milwaukee erasing a 10-point fourth quarter deficit. The Bucks did a great job marginalizing Pacers PF David West for much of the game, though he did manage a few key buckets late in the fourth quarter.
But facing Randolph and Gasol is another thing entirely. The Bucks, hardly glass-eaters themselves, can't allow Memphis to ignore the perimeter on offense. The Griz can struggle when forced to make jump shots, so Ilyasova and Pachulia need to show some resistance inside to take Memphis out of their comfort zone. And on the other end, more efficient shooting and passing will be key against elite defenders like Allen (sure to spend much of his night checking Khris Middleton) and Gasol.
|2014/2015 NBA Season|
(34-31, 15-19 road)
|March 14, 2015|
|FedExForum | Memphis, TN
|FS Wisconsin | AM 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Beno Udrih|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Courtney Lee|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Jeff Green|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||Zach Randolph|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Marc Gasol|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|102.9 (25th)||ORtg||106.1 (14th)|
|101.9 (2nd)||DRtg||102.5 (5th)|