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Bucks vs. Cavs Preview: Milwaukee preps for playoff stretch against LeBron and company

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Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time, waaaay back in time to 2014, the Milwaukee Bucks were ahead of the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers in the standings. We all had great fun during that time, sharing smiles and possibly even a few laughs.

Now? Well..um, it's different. Cleveland has gone 31-7 since being at that 19-20 mark when the Bucks were ahead of them, while Milwaukee has struggled to find consistency down the home stretch. Both are en route to a comfortable playoff berth, even if the aspirations once the second season begins are a bit different.

Though these two teams aren't expected to meet in the first round of the playoffs, one can expect the atmosphere in the BMOHBC to take shape of a playoff game. It was the last time these two teams played, and given that both will look to finish the regular season out strong, there's no reason to believe it won't be electric Wednesday night. Plus, that LeBron fellow seems to bring in quite the draw.

Cavs Update

Cleveland is rolling right now behind their offense, led by their big three and solid complementary players. But there is still one little flaw in their game that they'll need to sharpen if they want to roll deep into the playoffs: their defense.

The Cavs have the fourth-best offense -- one that we'd consider "championship caliber" -- but have the 19th ranked defense at a DRtg of 103.9. That's in the same company as the Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat. Those three aren't bad teams by any means. They're okay. But Cleveland can't afford to be okay, and they'll have to pick up that defense. They've started to, as David Zavac of Fear The Sword points out in his article on the topic.

"The Cavs aren't in the top half of the NBA defensively for the season. But like so many things with the Cavs season, January 15th does represent a bit of a turning point. The Cavs welcomed back a healthier LeBron James, and have worked in additions J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov, and Iman Shumpert. All four have been helpful to the Cavs defense. The results have been positive, if not overwhelming:

So the Cavs have been better, and even have a top 10 defense over 38 games. But this isn't a shut down defense, and while it hasn't been an easy schedule, the playoffs provides a different challenge. Teams with more experience and more chemistry and more continuity have a leg up. The Cavs are still getting to know one another. Having a slightly above average defense does not mean that you always play slightly above average defense. It means some nights you might be above average, and some nights you might be bad.

What the team does have, though, are more good defenders. LeBron James is not a consistent elite defender anymore, but he can turn it on for five and six minute stretches. Timofey Mozgov provides a physical presence and changes shots. Iman Shumpert disrupts passing lanes and plays with energy. J.R. Smith has been dialed in. Tristan Thompson has improved throughout the season and is competent against different kinds of players."

In other words, the Cavs' defense is improving and may relish at a chance for a tune-up against the struggling Bucks' offense.

Injuries

Other than having Anderson Varejao out for the season with that Achilles rupture, no Cavs player appears on the injury report. Same goes for the Bucks, as Jabari Parker (knee) and Damien Inglis (ankle) are the only players listed. Both squads should be fully stocked for this matchup.

Four Factors

The Cavs' high-powered offense is easily identifiable in going through the stats. Cleveland ranks fourth in effective field-goal percentage and ninth in free-throw rate. They also come in around the middle of the pack in turnover ratio. Conversely, the Bucks rank 13th in eFG% while having the eighth-lowest FTA rate. We all know where the Bucks rank in turnovers too, so there's little need to reopen that wound right now.

Additionally, the Bucks have one of the highest opponent FTA rates in the league, ranking 4th (or 27th, depending on how you look at it). Limiting the amount of times the Cavs visit the charity stripe, though difficult, would go a long way in the Bucks keeping pace with the Cavs, especially if their offense sputters.

Key Matchup: Kyrie Irving vs. MCW

LeBron will get his. He's the best player on the planet and there's nobody on the Bucks that can stop him. Kyrie Irving can be equally nightmarish though, and MCW will have his hands full trying to make life difficult for Irving. It's not an easy task, but MCW can't afford to be ineffective against Irving if the Bucks want to come away with the upset, either. Yeah, so...good luck.

Game Info

2014/15 NBA Season
Mil_medium
(38-39, 22-16 home)
vs.
Cle
(50-27, 21-18 road)
April 8, 2015
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 105.7 FM The Fan | 1250 AM
Probable Starters
Michael Carter-Williams PG Kyrie Irving
Khris Middleton SG J.R. Smith
Giannis Antetokounmpo SF LeBron James
Ersan Ilyasova PF Kevin Love
Zaza Pachulia C Timofey Mozgov
2014/15 Advanced Stats
96.2 (12th) Pace 94.7 (25th)
100.5 (24th) ORtg 108.1 (4th)
99.7 (3rd) DRtg 103.9 (19th)