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Bucks vs. Hornets Preview: After quiet trade deadline, Milwaukee starts second half against playoff-hopeful Charlotte

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps you hoped we'd be leading off today's preview with a rundown of trade recaps and musing on how all Milwaukee's new pieces might fit together? Or maybe you're relieved they didn't deal for dealing's sake. If it's the latter, congrats, you're safe for now. If it's the former, something tells me this summer will more than make up for a quiet trade deadline.

The Bucks, looking largely identical to the team that entered the All-Star break, begin the season's second half with a contest against the presently-eighth-seeded Charlotte Hornets at home tonight. The Bucks won their last two games before the break, but Charlotte has been on a bit of a roll as well, winning five of their last six games.

Bucks Update

It was an uneventful trade deadline for most of the NBA, Milwaukee included. Despite a handful of rumors big and small, everybody stayed put. There's a fair question as to why the Bucks were so hesitant to make any deals--as Frank suggested in our deadline recap, injury issues that have sapped the Bucks of some depth may have chilled the incentive to swap even tangential role players. There's no strong justification for de-valuing future seasons over the rest of this season, but it's also a bit hasty to suggest that's what happened here. It takes two to tango, and the major targets Milwaukee allegedly pursued--guys like Ricky Rubio and Dwight Howard--weren't going to come cheap. A full-blown fire sale was never likely (with Philadelphia mired in years of obscurity, I'm not sure any team is eager to give that another go), and the Bucks weren't really facing any internal roster pressure owing to contracts and such.

The result is that the Bucks you see tonight will be mostly the same Bucks you've seen for a while. In fact, they're going to look exactly the same when the game tips, according to head coach Jason Kidd. The Bucks are 2-0 with their switcheroo starters, and it only takes two points to make a line pointing to the playoffs, And Then The Finals, AND THEN A CHAMPIONSHIP.

As the last two games made clear, the switch isn't exactly a huge change. Against both the Wizards and the Celtics, Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe each played more minutes than their replacement counterparts, and both were terrific against Boston. Furthermore, the resulting starting lineup of Mayo, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Parker, and Plumlee has been terrible in limited (16) minutes, with a net efficiency differential of negative-42 points per 100 possessions. The switch has a lot more symbolic and strategic value in terms of staggering lineups and maybe offering a little motivation (or perhaps its original design was as a trade showcase?), but now it looks more like the Bucks are subscribing to the "if it ain't broke" theory of basketball, with "broke" being a pretty loose term.

Hornets Update

While much of the NBA stood pat at the deadline, Charlotte shook things up. Bad stuff first: the Hornets got some awful news with the announcement that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. On the plus side, Charlotte nabbed a significant upgrade at shooting guard in Courtney Leewhom they acquired in a three-team deal with the Grizzlies and Heat. Lee came at a pretty nice price, costing just a pair of future second-round picks and role players P.J. Hairston and Brian Roberts.

Lee is a nice fit for the Hornets, who were looking for another shooter as they seek to solidify their playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Slotting Lee in for Hairston represents a huge swing in shooting quality--Hairston had the highest three-point attempt rate on the team but was making just 31% of such attempts. Lee is a much more well-rounded scorer and should play nicely in a balanced Charlotte offense that's always trying to provide space and weapons for point guard Kemba Walker.

Milwaukee fans aren't likely to get a look at Lee tonight, however. Lee's physical kept him out of team practice with his new squad on Thursday, and head coach Steve Clifford says he's not putting Lee in a game until he goes through a practice with the team. He'll likely debut for Charlotte on Sunday versus the Nets.

Injury News

Jerryd Bayless reportedly hyperextended his knee in practice and underwent an MRI yesterday. He's likely out for tonight and no timetable for his return has yet been announced. John Henson also remains out due to back soreness. There's still no timetable for Henson's return, though he told the Journal-Sentinel's Charles Gardner that he hopes to be back soon.

"It's a slow process," Henson said. "I tried to practice last Sunday and it didn't work out. It didn't react the way we wanted it to.

"I've just got to take a little time off and get it right. We're treating it every day and going from there. Hopefully, I get back as soon as I can."

Charlotte expects to have center Al Jefferson back tonight. Jefferson has been out for a month and a half after undergoing knee surgery. Spencer Hawes is out, while Marvin Williams is questionable.

Daily Fantasy Tip

A note on Khris Middleton: Yes, he's been more or less tearing it up lately in daily fantasy terms and is probably worth a good look tonight, but it's worth examining just how he's been doing it for predictive purposes. Although Middleton has scored at least 20 points in 3 of his last 4 games, he's shooting under 40% overall and under 32% from behind the arc in that stretch. A lot his scoring has come at the free-throw line, while his fantasy scoring is propped up by improved rebounding and a ton of steals. The jumbled starters might afford Middleton a few more opportunities per game than he'd normally get, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll do more with them--for all the improvements he's made this season, he hasn't yet proven he can be a high-usage, high-efficiency player without significant help around him.

Charlotte's gonna be tricky to gauge while they work their lineup back into some organized unit. Trades and injuries have really thrown things for a loop, and it's hard to have a ton of faith in any single guy to take advantage of the production vacuum. Kemba Walker seems like the best bet, and to his credit, he's been playing great lately. In his last four games, Walker is averaging a 24.5/6/5.5 line and keeping negative plays to a minimum. He's played well against Milwaukee for his career, averaging nearly 20 points and 5 assists per game, though he's been uneven in two prior contests this season.

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(Editor's Note: all the opinions expressed here are my own. FanDuel gave me some cash to play daily fantasy games)

On the Hornets: At The HiveCharlotte Observer

15/16 NBA Season
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(22-32, 15-8 home)
vs.
Charlotte hornets.ve3a6f32
(27-26, 8-17 road)
February 19, 2016
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
O.J. Mayo PG Kemba Walker
Khris Middleton SG Nicolas Batum
Jabari Parker SF Marvin Williams
Giannis Antetokounmpo PF Frank Kaminsky
Miles Plumlee C Cody Zeller
2015/16 Advanced Stats
93.9 (24th)
Pace 95.5(15th)
103.9 (23rd)
ORtg 105.4 (13th)
108.9 (25th)
DRtg 104.2 (10th)