Maybe the Milwaukee Bucks have discovered a better way to manage their rotation. Or maybe not.
For the second consecutive game, the Bucks will bring Preferred Five starters Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe off the bench in place of O.J. Mayo and Miles Plumlee. The Bucks hope to improve to 2-0 with the lineup fix as they conclude the first half of the 2015-16 season and welcome the Washington Wizards to the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Jason Kidd's new starting lineup didn't exactly get the Bucks off to a rousing start — Mayo picked up two early fouls and was sent to the bench with the Bucks trailing 9-4 — but Monroe responded to the change with his best performance of the season, scoring 29 points including a go-ahead hook for the Bucks with one second remaining. After missing a pair of layups early, Monroe feasted on the likes of backup bigs Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller, and also made a couple of nice passes to Carter-Williams when Boston finally began doubling.
In 26 minutes off the bench, Carter-Williams finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists despite picking up five fouls. As for his replacement, Mayo ended up recording six assists in 18 minutes, but failed to score a single basket. It was his first game action after missing 11 contests in a row due to hamstring soreness.
A 40-point third quarter explosion helped the Bucks lead by 19 points entering the fourth quarter on Tuesday, but behind Isaiah Thomas' efforts and a big three by Jae Crowder, the Celtics put together a 27-4 run and tied the game with 23.9 left. The ending of the game would be far from normal.
After Monroe's go-ahead basket, Jerryd Bayless drew a foul on an ugly Celtics inbounds pass intended for Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk made both free-throws to tie the game at 111 with .6 left on the clock.
The Bucks signaled for a quick timeout and put the ball in Khris Middleton's hands for one last final shot attempt. Surprisingly, defensive stopper Avery Bradley raked Middleton across the forearm as he attempted a perimeter turnaround shot. Middleton made the first and intentionally missed the second to end the game since the Celtics had no timeouts left.
Even though he shot just 6-for-16 in the game, 18 of Middleton's 20 points came in the second half for the Bucks. Six players finished in double-figures for the Celtics, led by Crowder's 18.
Injury update: John Henson is out once again due to a sore lower back.
Though they enter Thursday night 3.5 games up on the Bucks in the standings, the Wizards (23-27) have suffered through arguably an even more disappointing season than the Bucks. After winning 46 games and coming within two games of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago, Randy Wittman's club has now spun its wheels for the better part of three months, leaving them 2.5 games out of the playoffs with both Detroit and Charlotte still to pass.
While there's still plenty of time to salvage a trip to the postseason, the team's inability to generate any kind of positive momentum remains startling. Like the Bucks, Washington's problems start on the defensive end, where they've fallen from fifth last year to just 21st so far this season. While they continue to force turnovers at a strong clip (third in the league), opponents have shot an NBA-worst 39 percent from three, which helps explain why Washington ranks an ugly 29th in opponent estimated field goal percentage.
Things aren't much better offensively, where Wittman's attempts to go smaller and faster have resulted in only a small year over year bump -- from 21st to 19th in offensive efficiency. John Wall remains phenomenal, averaging 20 points and almost 10 assists, while posting a career-best 2.1 steals, 0.8 blocks and 35.5% accuracy from three. But injuries haven't helped: Bradley Beal has only recently returned from his latest leg injury, missing 21 games. Big man Nene has been dealing with a calf injury and has seen his minutes reduced, while Kris Humphries (knee) and Gary Neal (leg) are both listed as questionable and Alan Anderson is out. Nene has missed 23 games and started just seven as part of Wittman's small ball approach, meaning both teams' best post players will come off the bench tonight. Interestingly, Nene leads the Wiz in net plus-minus; Washington is a +2.6 points/100 when he's on the court and 3.6 points when he's on the bench.
On the flip side, the biggest beneficiary of Washington's dedication to playing small has been former Buck Jared Dudley. After returning early from summer back surgery, he's averaged nearly 29 minutes per game and has shot a sizzling 47% from deep this season. The Wiz have been marginally better defensively with Dudley on the court this season, though it will be interesting to watch if the Bucks once again look to exploit him one-on-one -- both Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo were able to use their physical advantages to repeatedly overwhelm him in isolation opportunities when the teams last met in Washington in January.
|15/16 NBA Season|
|February 11, 2016|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
|Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|O.J. Mayo||PG||John Wall|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Bradley Beal|
|Jabari Parker||SF||Otto Porter|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||PF||Jared Dudley|
|Miles Plumlee||C||Marcin Gortat|
|2015/16 Advanced Stats|