The Milwaukee Bucks are staying afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff picture by taking care of business against the league’s worst teams. On Tuesday they get another chance at taking down one of the league’s best when they welcome LeBron, Kyrie, Kevin and the NBA Champion Cavs to the BMO Harris Bradley Center — the first of three meetings between the teams in the next three weeks. Podcast preview:
The Bucks’ Sunday night effort in Orlando won’t be confused for a work of art, but it did count as a much-needed win for Jason Kidd’s club. John Henson returned to the starting five and responded by snapping out of his month-long funk with a season-best 20 points, seven boards and three blocks, while Giannis Antetokounmpo added a ho-hum 18 points, nine boards, four assists and three blocks.
The win leaves the Bucks percentage points behind the eighth seeded Knicks in the East playoff picture, but things are about to get notably more difficult for the Bucks in December. From Mitchell’s post on Monday:
To reiterate, that’s three games against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, back-to-backs against the Chicago Bulls and the frisky Brooklyn Nets, and then one game each against Toronto, San Antonio, Atlanta, Portland, and Washington. Exactly how many of those games do you think the Bucks are good enough that they should win? Three, maybe four?
On the bright side, Giannis has saved some of their best performances for LeBron and the Cavaliers, including a career-best 33 points in a TNT game in Cleveland last fall. The 23.8 points he averaged against the Cavs last year was the most he put up against any opponent, and the Bucks will need him at his best once again to have a shot against the King.
The 13-2 Cavs ride into Milwaukee atop the East standings and on a four-game winning streak — so yeah, they still look like a team that won an NBA title six months. Though their defense has been comparable to the Bucks’ in efficiency terms thus far, Cleveland’s offense has been virtually unstoppable all season, ranking second overall and in the top five in three point makes (13.8), attempts (35.2) and percentage (39.2%). That’s bad news for a Bucks team that has ranked a surprising first in opponent three point defense (31.3%), especially given how much luck typically goes into three point defense.
Kyrie Irving may have usurped LeBron James’ crown as the Cavs leading scorer, but there remains no question who Cleveland’s real king is. While James’ scoring is down modestly this season (23.6 ppg on excellent 59% true shooting), he continues to do just about everything else, posting career-best marks of 9.7 assists and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Kevin Love is similarly playing at an exceptional level, averaging 22.3 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting a scorching 43% from deep. He’s less than a week removed from dropping an NBA-record 34 points (including 8-of-10 threes) in a first quarter, and he’s one of four Cavs currently averaging more than 2.5 made threes per game. To put that in perspective, Mirza Teletovic leads the Bucks with a more modest 1.8 triples per contest.
On the injury front: Channing Frye (personal reasons) and Iman Shumpert (hamstring) are both listed as “TBD” in the Cavs’ media notes, so it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll return to action tomorrow night.