The Milwaukee Bucks are above .500 -- but will that be changing soon? A back-to-back in the Southeast figures to give them a good measuring stick of where they are (and aren’t), all while providing a good warmup for the Golden State Warriors’ lone visit to Milwaukee on Saturday. Our podcast preview of their trip to Atlanta (tonight) and Miami (tomorrow):
The Bucks snapped a two-game skid with an impressive 106-96 win over the Grizz on Saturday, assuring them a winning record as they rested up for a tricky back-to-back in Atlanta and Miami starting tonight. Giannis was everywhere, Michael Beasley provided a major spark off the bench, and the Bucks showed for the first time that they could win a grind-it-out game against a talented (albeit aging) Grizzlies roster.
Jason Kidd indicated earlier this week that he’ll stick with John Henson in the starting five for now, meaning the Bucks’ best big man remains the only one who hasn’t started a game. Miles Plumlee underwhelmed in the first eight games of the season and Henson has been the Bucks’ worst player by a mile in net rating terms, but Greg Monroe has been impressive on both ends while playing a career-low 21 minutes per night. The good news for Milwaukee’s bigs: they may have an easier go of it tonight with Dwight Howard a question mark due to a quad contusion suffered in Miami on Tuesday.
No one knew quite what to expect from Atlanta after the summer swap of Al Horford for Dwight Howard, but so far? So good. Atlanta has won five in a row, is 5-1 at home, and have the East’s best point differential (+9.9) after knocking off the Cavs in Cleveland last week. Playing a style not entirely dissimilar form the Bucks, they remain one of the league’s best defensive teams (2nd) by flying around to force turnovers and close out just enough on shooters.
While Howard hasn’t become the entire focal point of the Hawks offense and he still can’t shoot free throws, pretty much all of his other numbers are up -- including career-best marks in WS/48 and box score plus-minus and his best PER in five years. On the court, his biggest impact has been on the glass, helping propel Atlanta from 25th in defensive rebound rate and 30th in offensive rebound rate to top ten in both marks. Without him — and the perpetually injured Tiago Splitter (hamstring) — the Hawks would have to rely more heavily on the pleasantly surprising Mike Muscala and Kris Humphries. Needless to say that would be good news for a Bucks team that has been the league’s best over the past year in terms of scoring in the paint.
Other than Howard, Dennis Schröder has been solid if not spectacular stepping into the departed Jeff Teague’s starting point guard role, Paul Millsap’s numbers are down somewhat from his excellent 15/16 campaign, and Kyle Korver’s jumper is looking just fine (45% from three) after a disappointing, injury-plagued season a year ago.
Aside from Howard and Splitter, Mike Scott (knee) is also not expected to play.