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Bucks vs. Blazers Preview: Bucks in search of spark vs. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and surging Blazers

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Will the Milwaukee Bucks' faint playoff ambitions survive their West Coast road trip? Were they already dead a month ago (as suggested by yours truly)?

Those questions seem to be top of mind following the Bucks' loss to the Boogie Cousins-less Kings in Sacramento last night, as the Bucks' tendency to give up ill-timed threes once again did them in on the road. Alas, they've now dropped three straight to drop them a season-worst 10 games below .500 and six games out of the ever-elusive eighth spot.

Bucks Update

Newsflash: the Milwaukee Bucks are not good at stopping other teams from scoring points. The Bucks' defensive efficiency remains rooted in 29th position league-wide, and the only thing stopping them from tumbling further in the standings is their surprisingly solid offense, which was buoyed in January by career-best months from Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo. While they're not scaring anyone on the perimeter -- last month they were last in the league in three point makes and attempts, and 29th in percentage -- the Bucks scored over 51 points in the paint per game in January and continue to the lead the league in that category. They also benefited from grabbing nearly 30% of their own misses and getting to the line a bunch, though the end result was still a scoring margin of -2.5 points/100 in January -- not good, and yet by far the Bucks' best result in any month this season.

With two more games remaining on their current trip, it stands to reason that the Bucks will need to win either tonight or in Utah to maintain any illusion of playoff contention. Don't expect anyone to say that out loud -- no one wants to admit that the season might be over with 30 games left -- but the Bucks certainly don't look like a team on the verge of flipping a switch. It doesn't mean the rest of the season isn't important; the continued progress of Jabari Parker, Antetokounmpo and Middleton and was always going to be more important than wins, and the organization should be using this season to figure out how those guys fit alongside the likes of Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams. It probably won't translate into a flurry of activity around the trade deadline, though it may well lead to some important decisions in June and July.

As for the here and now: no updates to the Bucks' injury report, as John Henson (back) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring) remain out. That means more minutes for Miles Plumlee, who's looked fairly solid in Henson's absence and tonight gets a chance to face off against his younger brother Mason. And in case you're wondering, the Bucks' success in slotting Henson in with the starting guards and forwards hasn't translated into the same lineups with Plumlee -- he's played just 15 minutes with the other four starters, and while they've held opponents to just 84 points/100 possessions they've scored just 65 themselves.

One other point to watch: will Khris Middleton snap out of his mini-slump? After putting together a phenomenal stretch of 20+ games, Middleton has struggled with his shot in the past three games, hitting just 14/49 (28.6%) from the field while tallying just eight assists with eight turnovers.

Blazers Scouting Report

As you'd expect of a team with Lillard and McCollum, the Blazers shoot a ton of threes (third in makes, fifth in attempts). But their surplus of depth and athleticism on the frontline has also translated into a terrific rebounding team on both ends: they rank third in OReb% and eighth in DReb%, with the former particularly problematic given the Bucks rank dead last at keeping opponents off the offensive boards. Mason Plumlee is bouncy, Meyer Leonard can stretch the floor, and Ed Davis is the efficient lunch-pail guy.

All of that has been adding up to wins of late, as Portland has won four straight and eight of ten to vault Terry Stotts' club into the eighth spot out West. Not exactly the most enviable position -- getting swept by the Warriors isn't exactly fun -- but it's seriously impressive stuff for a Blazer team that absolutely no one expected to make the postseason.

On the Blazers: Blazers Edge

2015/16 NBA Season
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(20-30, 7-22 road)
vs.
Portland trail blazers.v76b8a2d
(23-26, 14-10 home)
February 2, 2016
MODA Center | Portland, OR
9:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Michael Carter-Williams PG Damian Lillard
Khris Middleton SG C.J. McCollum
Jabari Parker SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Giannis Antetokounmpo PF Noah Vonleh
Greg Monroe C Mason Plumlee
2015/16 Advanced Stats
93.7 (24th) Pace 94.9 (18th)
104.2 (21st) ORtg 107.0 (8th)
109.5 (29th) DRtg 107.3 (20th)