For the first time since January 29th, the Milwaukee Bucks will play in a game in which they can fall back to a .500 record.
Being .500 isn't the end of the world, but it would be an another unpleasant reminder of the Bucks' struggles since the All-Star Break. Milwaukee has gone 4-10 since the break and a loss tonight would tie their longest losing streak of the season. To avoid that fourth straight L, they'll have to defeat (gulp) the defending world champion San Antonio Spurs.
The Bucks nearly put an end to that losing streak last night, but came up one bucket short in an 85-84 road loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, their ninth straight defeat on the road. The good news is that Giannis is still fantastic and the Bucks have played much better at home as of late, winning 10 of their last 12 games at the BMOHBC.
The Spurs recently had Kawhi Leonard return to action and were beginning to hit their stride, winning seven of their last eight games--the only loss coming in overtime to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then last night happened.
"Some variation of a similarly amused opening was already typed by countless beat writers, hoping for respite from yet another late night. This was OBVIOUSLY a win for the Spurs. Definitely an easy one too...
But instead, the game was tied at 94 with one minute to play. No one would've imagined that the Spurs would field nearly the same crew in the final minute against the Knicks that they did against the Cavaliers! No preemptive column would have called the Alexey Shved/Lou Amundson pick and roll to send it to overtime.
None would've called yet another Kawhi free-throw miss at the end of regulation or a Tim Duncan miss in overtime. None still would've predicted the Spurs needing instant replay on two nail-biting calls in overtime, and surely they would be able to capitalize on those (or any other) chances. There was no way to predict Parker hitting the Spurs only OT field goal 15 seconds into the period."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was less than pleased about his team's performance:
The full Pop... pic.twitter.com/8O2I5GOhU3— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneySAEN) March 18, 2015
So who's excited to play the Spurs tonight? Anyone? Anyone??
In fairness though, tonight could go a few different ways. The darkest timeline is that the Spurs come out very motivated to get back on track and just slaughter the spirited, but ultimately helpless Bucks. Another outcome could be that, after playing his guys so many minutes last night, Pop decides to rest his aging core with an eye on the bigger picture. The most realistic one probably falls somewhere in between, but we'll keep an eye on that up until the tip.
The Bucks will again be without Jared Dudley (back spasms) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring soreness), but will have Michael Carter-Williams and Jerryd Bayless after both returned from injury last night in New Orleans. The Spurs will be a down a few players too, as Manu Ginobili (sprained right ankle) and Aron Baynes (rib contusion) are listed as out.
The Spurs unsurprisingly rank in the top-10 in eFG% (7th) and opponent eFG% (10th). They also take care of the defensive glass, ranking fourth in opponent OREB%. They are oftentimes a beautiful, humming basketball machine and they rarely put together consecutive bad performances. It would be foolish for the Bucks to expect anything but their best.
They've also won nine of their last ten against Milwaukee, averaging 105.7 points on 51.8 percent shooting. I would say expect more of the usual Spurs than last night's Spurs.
Key Matchup: Tony Parker vs. Bucks defense
There were a few different matchups I could have chosen here, to be honest. Tony Parker is the choice tonight because he will have control of the ball most of the night and he will be the one mostly responsible for getting the Spurs back on track. His ability to dance around in the lane should keep the Bucks occupied, and if they are not sharp on this SEGABABA (they're 6-12 in these situations), the Spurs could have open looks all night. Chances are they will make a lot of them and that it could be a long night for the Bucks. Monitoring Parker will be huge.