And just like that, there are only 10 games remaining in the 2014-2015 NBA regular season.
It's been a season full of surprises for Milwaukee, some good, others awful. Expectations have been thoroughly blown to bits, but with nearly 90% of the season in the books, the Bucks are right back where they've always been most comfortable: playing .500 basketball.
Just keeping their heads above water has been a battle lately for the Bucks. Now, with their sights on a winning record and a secure spot in the playoffs, Milwaukee takes on the team with the best record and statistical profile in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors.
Golden State hasn't lost since March 13 when they dropped a shorthanded game versus the Denver Nuggets. They've won eight straight since that loss, outscoring opponents by an average of 19 points per game during the streak. In a word, that's insane.
As it happens, the Bucks have the unfortunate pleasure of being the team in the way of history for these Warriors. Not only can Golden State clinch the top overall seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a victory, but they can become the first team in franchise history to win 60 games in a season.
They're rolling through opponents behind MVP candidate Stephen Curry, who is averaging 24 points and 9 assists with nearly 50% shooting from three-point range during Golden State's current winning streak. As if that wasn't enough, Klay Thompson recently returned from an ankle injury and looks to be back in good form after dropping 28 points on the Memphis Grizzlies last night.
If there's any break to be found for the Milwaukee Bucks, it's that Curry has struggled in Milwaukee over his last three games, shooting just 31% per ESPN Stats. Playing on the second night in a row, Milwaukee has to hope they don't get Golden State's best effort tonight, because nobody has shown an ability to withstand it.
Golden State remains tops in the league in the two most important factors of all: offensive and defensive eFG%. Surprisingly enough, they're not exceptionally good in any of the other offensive factors, ranking no higher than 16th in the NBA in turnover rate, offensive rebound percentage, or free-throw rate. They force turnovers at a pretty decent clip, but they're also a bit underwhelming on the defensive glass.
Milwaukee is slowly getting its full roster back on the court. O.J. Mayo played a handful of minutes in the last two games for the Bucks--he's working his way back from a hamstring injury. Jared Dudley also returned versus the Pacers on Thursday after missing six games with a back injury.
The Warriors are in selective rest mode at this point in the season, and the Bucks did find a bit of luck in that regard: both Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala will sit out tonight's game.
Key Matchup: Michael Carter-Williams vs. Stephen Curry
Carter-Williams gets a lot of credit for his defensive, and deservedly so, but stopping Curry when he's on a roll like this seems an impossible task. It's not just that Curry runs Golden State's offense to perfection, or that his teammates are all constantly focused on creating three-point attempts for their star point guard. It's that Curry will, completely out of nowhere, decide to let one fly. And whenever he does, there's a pretty decent chance it's going in. He's one of the most mystifying players to guard in the NBA because he is always dangerous.
To that end, Milwaukee has to at least get some decent production of MCW to counter what Curry is likely to bring. Thankfully, the Bucks do have one advantage to lean on, and that's their size in the backcourt. Golden State has been known to cross-match the defensive assignments of Curry and Thompson to put Klay on the more potent scorer, but the pairing of MCW and Khris Middleton mean that no matter what, Curry's man will have a size advantage. The relative comfort of both players working in the post could provide a boost for the Bucks, but Golden State didn't reach #1 in team defensive rating by falling prey to obvious mismatches. They'll have a plan to deal with any nuances Milwaukee might throw at them, which means it'll be important for the Bucks to do all the basic stuff well: they'll need to be efficient from behind the arc, take care of the ball, and keep the rebounding margin from getting out of whack.
|2014/2015 NBA Season|
|March 28, 2015|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Stephen Curry||PG||Michael Carter-Williams|
|Klay Thompson||SG||Khris Middleton|
|Harrison Barnes||SF||Giannis Antetokounmpo|
|David Lee||PF||Ersan Ilyasova|
|Andrew Bogut||C||Zaza Pachulia|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|98.1 (1st)||Pace||93.8 (17th)|
|111.6 (2nd)||ORtg||102.8 (26th)|
|100.5 (1st)||DRtg||102.4 (3rd)|