Less than a year ago, the Golden State Warriors beat the Boston Celtics on a Friday night and headed into Milwaukee optimistic they could handle a mediocre Bucks team coming off a bad loss. Then 24-1 happened.
Tonight the Warriors again roll into Milwaukee on the second night of a back-to-back that began with a win in Boston, while the Bucks return home licking their wounds from an 0-2 road trip that ended in ugly fashion in Miami. Will lightning strike again this year? We’ll find out starting at 7:30 tonight.
The Bucks’ two-game Southeastern swing ended as it began — poorly. After an early 17-point deficit ultimately doomed them in Atlanta on Wednesday, the Bucks scored a total of 25 points in the entire second half against the struggling Heat a night later, dropping them to below .500 for the first time since they were 1-2. Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo were terrible by their usual standards, combining to shoot just 10/35 from the field as Dion Waiters of all people bottled up Giannis’ drives and post attempts, while Jabari couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half on a night where he hit just 5/20 shots.
More curiously, Greg Monroe played just seven minutes in Atlanta before sitting out entirely against Hassan Whiteside, leading Jason Kidd to explain after the game that he intends to abandon the three-headed center approach from here on out. While Monroe’s lack of footspeed would theoretically make him a tough matchup against the Warriors, he was terrific against them in Milwaukee’s win last year, dominating Draymond Green in the post down the stretch. Also: Miles Plumlee and John Henson have been underwhelming at best this season, making Monroe’s absence all the more eye-catching. Stay tuned.
While they began their season with a thud against the Spurs, the sorta-new-look Warriors are humming along just fine, thanks. Kevin Durant (27.5 ppg on 67% true shooting) and Stephen Curry (26.9 on 66%) are scoring in bushels for an offense that is putting up even more points than a year ago (115.9 vs. 114.5 points/100), and Klay Thompson has caught fire of late after a slow start (50% from three, 22.4 points over the last five). No team can match the firepower of the Warriors’ top four, and with six straight wins — and a 6-1 road record overall — they appear to be coming together quite nicely.
Aside from boredom with the regular season, the Warriors do appear to have at least some vulnerabilities: interior defense and depth. After ranking among the league’s best defensively over the past three seasons, Golden State has been just average thus far, and they’re especially weak on the defensive boards (29th). It’s not to say they won’t be huge favorites tonight, but the loss of Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli means the Bucks could have another big night in the paint — provided they can find a way around the switching perimeter abilities of Thompson, Durant and Green. Golden State ranks 22nd in opponent paint scoring (44.8), while the Bucks are third in that department (48.2) after leading the league a year ago. On the plus side, you know Bogut can’t dance like our old friend Zaza:
And while no one is sticking a fork in Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston just yet, it’s somewhat remarkable that Golden State’s big four are the only guys on the roster averaging more than 5 ppg. They clearly aren’t having any problem scoring points, but if two of the Warriors big names have off shooting nights you might have a chance at knocking them off.