The Bucks’ heartache after an agonizing 97-96 loss to San Antonio Monday night will have to get sewn up quickly as the Portland Trail Blazers swoop into town as winners of their past three games after a narrow 112-110 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday.
Milwaukee’s narrow defeat at the steady hand of the Spurs was difficult to swallow given the Bucks outplayed San Antonio for the majority of the tilt. Giannis Antetokounmpo battled foul trouble in the second half, but a strong first half carried him to a solid 22 points and 11 rebounds. Jabari Parker finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, and flashed a vigor and vision late in the game that had to be promising for viewers everywhere. He got to the tin at will, and distributed the ball with flair to Bucks all across the court in advantageous positions, even if they didn’t always finish.
Milwaukee crumbled in the latter stages of the third quarter, however, giving up a 13-point halftime lead as San Antonio’s shots started falling. After Giannis left the game early in the fourth with five fouls, Jabari took an alpha dog role to battle Kawhi Leonard, who wound up with 16 points in the final quarter. Giannis’ stardom of late has overshadowed some of Jabari’s development, but even if his numbers aren’t as gaudy, his playmaking skills look far more skilled and nuanced than when he appeared to be forcing it early in the season.
Greg Monroe struggled sticking with Dwayne Dedmon on pick and rolls, something that could be a problem against Portland’s guards and Mason Plumlee, the brother who isn’t languishing on a bench somewhere. Milwaukee continued to prevent its opponents from shooting competently from three against San Antonio (29%), and they’ll need every bit of that effort to keep the Blazers and their sixth-most 3-point attempts in the league from splashing it in all over the court.
Still no injury issues for the Bucks outside of Khris Middleton, though he was seen working up with a sweat with none other than a visiting Kevin Garnett at practice on Tuesday:
Some more Bucks reading as the Giannis hype train continues to speed up:
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who turns 22 today, has Bucks dreaming big & hoping for team's first All-Star since 2004: https://t.co/zNfkCjfMhH— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) December 6, 2016
DX: The Pro Perspective: Giannis Antetokounmpo https://t.co/do5ThhgiRy - Giannis reflects on his mentality and practice habits as a shooter pic.twitter.com/BW7Bp5lifi— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) December 6, 2016
After a money-laden offseason saw the Blazers lock into CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner for the foreseeable future, their team is off to a shaky, up-and-down start. As expected, the offensive stylings of their sweet-shooting backcourt is always enjoyable, and Damian Lillard is having another absurd season averaging 27.9 points per game including an impressive 8.3 FTA per game for him.
CJ McCollum’s is similarly shooting at a breakneck pace, with his 22 ppg including a 44% 3-point percentage on nearly six attempts per game, a mark that is fifth among all players averaging at least five attempts per game. Their newly minted role players aren’t contributing quite as formidably though, with Allen Crabbe averaging less points than his “breakout” year last year. Meanwhile, the addition of Evan Turner seems to be underwhelming and then some so far, with Turner’s role as the bench ball handler not materializing as much as expected. His assist totals have dipped from 4.4 last year to only three this season, and only Brandon Knight (-159) has a worse total point differential than Turner (-158) so far this season.
The Blazers’ big men combo is one of the more unique duos in the league. Portland ranks in the bottom ten in rebounding percentage, but Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard make up for it with offensive versatility. Plumlee is averaging the most assists per game than any big man not named Draymond Green with 4.5 (Pipe down Giannis Stans...) and his 24.5% assist rate is only a few ticks below Damian Lillard’s 27% mark. While Plumlee doesn’t shoot outside 10 feet, Leonard is almost exclusively a 3-point specialist. Nearly 60 percent of his shots are from three, although he’s hitting a career-low 32 percent from deep.
Chasing the Blazers array of shooters off the 3-point line will be priority number one for Milwaukee, but luckily for the Bucks, the Blazers offensive success is exceeded only by their defensive ineptitude. Portland owns the dubious honor of the league’s worst defensive rating after ranking 20th last year. Their bigs aren’t adept rim-protectors — Festus Ezeli, acquired in the offseason to buoy that deficiency, remains out with a knee issue — and Lillard and McCollum aren’t exactly must see TV for their defense. While their duo of long-armed forwards in Ed Davis and a quietly super solid Maurice Harkless (13 ppg/38% from three) look like solid counters for Milwaukee’s own frontcourt on paper, it’s seeming more and more likely that even the league’s best defenders will struggle against Giannis and Jabari.
Al Farouq-Aminu was probable on Monday night but played, and the Blazers could certainly use his defensive versatilty tonight.
On the Blazers: Blazers Edge