Playing at home inside the BMO Harris Bradley Center has been an escape for the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been nothing but inconsistent on the road.
After registering their fourth-straight home win Monday against the Orlando Magic, the Bucks head to Memphis for their first matchup of the season looking to end a two-game skid away from Wisconsin.
Behind Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo's combined 50 points, the Bucks prevailed against the Magic 107-100 on Tuesday. Orlando started the game hot from deep (4-of-5 from three in the first, 8-of-11 in the first half), but the Bucks were able to hold on thanks to Middleton, Antetokounmpo and two late triples from Jerryd Bayless.
The Bucks have been particularly terrible defending the 3-point line over the last three games, an all-too-familiar challenge for a Bucks defense that still ranks 29th in the NBA. Milwaukee has given up 45 threes during that stretch, and in comparison, they themselves have hit 44 triples in their last 11 games. When asked about his team's defense against the three, coach Jason Kidd didn't mince words.
"We're just not giving the effort," Kidd said before Tuesday's game. "I think we have to give effort on the defensive end of taking the three away."
"We're a second late. We've talked about it," Kidd said.
Respectfully, I slightly disagree with Kidd. In that Orlando game, the Bucks sank a lot of times on defense away from their opponent when somebody started to move inside. That's partially effort-related, but also not trusting your teammates to pick up and help in addition to poor communication with one another. Committing too hard on certain areas of the floor hasn't been anything new for the Bucks on defense this season.
Injury update: The Bucks will be without John Henson tonight due to a sore back, while O.J. Mayo is still out with hamstring soreness and Greivis Vasquez still has no timetable for returning.
The Magic fell victim to the Grizzlies earlier this week after Jeff Green scored a season-high 30 points off the bench in their 108-102 overtime loss. Behind Green's 30 and late free-throws from Mike Conley, Memphis survived.
After finishing last season in the top portion of the Western Conference at 55-27, the Grizzlies have taken a step back this season under Dave Joerger. However, recently they've played better with more games at FedExForum, where they hold a 17-7 record. The Grizzlies have taken six of their last eight, with all victories coming at home outside of a January 12 matchup against Houston. They've scored 100 points or more in all eight of those games minus the Rockets one.
Much like the Bucks, the Grizzlies have taken a step back on defense, although to a significantly lesser degree. The Grizzlies still have the bulk of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol down low as well as perimeter defensive prowess of Tony Allen, but this year they've dropped from third in defensive rating to 16th. They still rank fifth in steals and third in the league in opponent turnovers per game (first in turnover percentage), but they rank 21th in eFG% thanks in large part to ranking 27th in both three pointers made and attempted.
With an offense ranked a surprising 10th in the league over the past 20 games, the Bucks might be a good test for Memphis. The matchup of Khris Middleton and Allen will definitely be the one to watch tonight, especially with how great Middleton has played offensively of late. Over his last 20 games, Middleton is averaging 22.7 points with 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds.
The Henson/MCW/Khris/Jabari/Giannis lineup is now up to 113 ORtg / 83 DRtg in 61 minutes. Only 13 of those minutes came before January.— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) January 27, 2016
The Bucks remain in 13th place in the East, trailing 8th seeded Indiana by four games. However, the soft underbelly of the Eastern playoff picture is beginning to soften: Monday's win over the Magic brought the Bucks to within 1.5 games of Orlando and the Wizards, Knicks and Hornets are all within 2.5 games. Via 538, that puts the Bucks' expected record at 37-45 with playoff odds of 14% -- higher than both the Knicks (36-46) and Magic (35-47).
On the flip side, the Bucks' improvement has kept them at #8 in the lotto standings, where they now trail the 6/th7th seeded Nuggets and Pelicans by 2.5 games. Based on the way the world as it now stands, it's difficult to see the Bucks rising/falling any higher than 6th (in a downside scenario); both the Pelicans and Nuggets are still vaguely in the playoff race out West (3.5 games out), while the Bucks are a full 6.0 games better than the fading Suns and Wolves, who are tied for 4th/5th in the lotto seeding.
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|January 28, 2016|
|FedExForum | Memphis, TN|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Mike Conley|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Tony Allen|
|Jabari Parker||SF||Courtney Lee|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||PF||Zach Randolph|
|Greg Monroe||C||Marc Gasol|
|2015/16 Advanced Stats|
|93.7 (24th)||Pace||93.1 (27th)|
|104.2 (21st)||ORtg||103.3 (25th)|
|109.1 (29th)||DRtg||105.7 (16th)|