The Milwaukee Bucks are on a bit of a roll. Can the .500 Houston Rockets stop their momentum?
Winners of three straight, including two away from home, the Bucks face the Rockets hoping to match their longest winning streak of the 2015-16 season Friday evening inside the Toyota Center.
Behind another stellar performance from Khris Middleton (22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), the Bucks cooled off the Heat in South Beach, 91-79 on Tuesday, registering their second win in a row on the road for only the second time this season. After beating Atlanta in overtime a week from today in Milwaukee, the Bucks traveled to Charlotte and held the Hornets to 37.9 percent shooting before forcing the Heat to go just 36.5 percent. They still rank second to the bottom in defensive rating, but any progress at this point is good progress.
During the Bucks' streak, Middleton has been the catalyst for their success on the offensive end. Period. Middleton's averaging 24 points on 51 percent shooting from the field with five rebounds, four dimes and close to two steals in those three games. Below is how he's been shooting over the last 15. Minus that three on the left side and short jumper in front of the rim, he's been money everywhere else.
The Bucks received some good news Thursday, with head coach Jason Kidd stating he expects to return to the bench next Tuesday when the team returns from their trip and welcome the Orlando Magic. Kidd last coached the Bucks on Dec. 20 in Phoenix and has been rehabbing after undergoing hip surgery.
"I feel great after surgery and am looking forward to getting back on the sidelines full-time next week," Kidd said yesterday. "I received a good report from my doctor last week in New York and I am ahead of schedule on my recovery. Provided everything continues to go well this week, I plan on being back to my normal duties on Monday."
Interim coach Joe Prunty has coached the Bucks to an 8-7 record in Kidd's absence.
Despite James Harden's 33 points, a career-high 17 rebounds and 13 dimes, the Rockets continued their disappointing season by still losing to the Detroit Pistons even after Andre Drummond missed an NBA record 23 free-throws. More importantly: Houston also allowed the Pistons the score a whopping 123 points, dropping their home record to a disappointing 13-11.
With how well the Bucks have been playing defensively over the past week, facing Harden will be a big test. Atlanta, Charlotte and Miami don't have a high-volume scorer like Harden, nor a player that pulls opposing defenses into fouls like him. The Bucks are 28th in personal fouls per game (21.8), so look for Harden (61 percent on driving layups) to specifically attack starters Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker —as well as others — in the paint.
What's more troubling about Harden is that he can easily just shoot the ball outside, too. Harden is shooting 52 percent for his career against Milwaukee (11 games), with 33 coming in the last matchup between the two clubs.
Working in the Bucks' favor: the Rockets will be without center Dwight Howard (ankle), Donatas Motiejunas (back) and former Badger Sam Dekker (back). Houston is 3-4 in games this season when Howard does not play, and they weren't the same team after he exited Wednesday's loss either. Terrence Jones will presumably move into the starting lineup to replace Howard, with Clint Capela sliding to the five spot.
As a positive, Houston could have starting point guard Patrick Beverley back, though Beverley (ankle), Jason Terry (knee) and Montrezl Harrell (shoulder) are all listed as questionable at the moment. Ty Lawson started and scored 18 points in Beverley's stead on Wednesday, stoking suggestions that his start over Terry came in part to showcase him for a potential trade. The Bucks are among the teams that have been kind-of-sort-of linked with Lawson, though there doesn't appear to be any real substance to it at this point.
On the Rockets: The Dream Shake
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|January 22, 2016|
|Toyota Center | Houston, TX|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Patrick Beverley (Q)|
|Khris Middleton||SG||James Harden|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Trevor Ariza|
|Jabari Parker||PF||Terrence Jones|
|Greg Monroe||C||Clint Capela|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|93.8 (24th)||Pace||96.9 (8th)|
|103.9 (22nd)||ORtg||106.6 (7th)|
|108.8 (29th)||DRtg||107.8 (23rd)|