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Bucks vs. Celtics Preview: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker look to stay hot in Boston

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Can Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker keep up their winning (and stat-stuffing) ways?

That's the operative question for Bucks fans heading into Thursday night's tilt in Boston, where the Bucks will try to beat the third seeded Celtics for the second time in three weeks. The Bucks nearly blew a huge fourth quarter lead before ultimately escaping with a 112-111 win in Milwaukee on February 9, evening the season series at one after Boston blew the Bucks out in Milwaukee in November.

Bucks Update

The Bucks have won four out of five since Jason Kidd's decision to move Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams to the bench, though the real story of late has been the emergence of franchise cornerstones Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. From our post yesterday on that topic:

By now you probably know all about the exploits of Antetokounmpo (21.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 5.7 apg!) and Parker (22.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg!) since the all-star break. Much of that would seem to trace back to Kidd's decision to bring Monroe and Carter-Williams off the bench, a move that has simultaneously paid dividends on the scoreboard while enabling Giannis and Jabari to become bigger focal points in first and third quarters. Though the sample remains a modest 52 minutes thus far, the new starting lineup featuring Plumlee and O.J. Mayo has outscored opponents by nearly 20 points per 100 possessions while posting the best rebounding and assist rates of any Bucks lineup with more than 50 minutes together on the court.

Another key for Milwaukee of late has been on the defensive end, where they might finally be putting their early season struggles behind them (...famous last words?). Milwaukee's defense has quietly ranked ninth in defensive efficiency over the past 20 games, a result likely driven by a confluence of factors: an easier schedule, Jabari Parker defending small forwards more regularly, Parker and Monroe sharing fewer minutes together, and the Bucks suddenly figuring out how to defend the three point line. Whether the latter is a short-term blip or sustained improvement isn't clear, but it's certainly a major theme to watch over the remainder of the season.

On the downside, the Bucks will once again be without Jerryd Bayless (knee), John Henson (back), and Greivis Vasquez (knee). Check out our most recent podcasts below, including Part 2 of the post-all-star-break podcasts Eric Nehm and I recorded on Tuesday. Hint: we talk a lot about Giannis and Jabari.

Post-Deadline Part 2 (NEW!) Download this episode (right click and save)

Post-Deadline Part 1

Celtics Scouting Report

The Celtics continue to sit pretty in the three spot in the East, albeit just a half game ahead of four seeded Miami and three games ahead of the eighth seeded Hornets. Dating back to the last time they visited Milwaukee, the Celtics have actually lost three of their last five, though it's hardly time to panic in Boston. Other than a blowout loss in Utah, the two other losses came by two or fewer points, and the Celtics overall have the point differential of a 37-21 team while ranking among the league's top ten in both offense (9th) and defense (4th). Not bad for a team without a superstar, eh?

Brad Stevens and co. come into tonight's game without the services of floor-stretching big man Kelly Olynyk, but they are expected to have Isaiah Thomas and sixth man Marcus Smart despite neither being 100%. Moreover, the Celtics have won eight straight at home after a disappointing 9-10 start at the TD Bank Garden.

15/16 NBA Season
(33-25, 17-10 home)
vs.
(24-33, 8-24 road)
February 25, 2016
TD Bank Garden | Boston, MA
6:30 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Isaiah Thomas PG O.J. Mayo
Avery Bradley SG Khris Middleton
Jae Crowder SF Jabari Parker
Jared Sullinger PF Giannis Antetokounmpo
Amir Johnson C Miles Plumlee
15/16 Advanced Stats
106.7 (9th) Pace 94.1 (24th)
102.7 (4th) ORtg 103.8 (25th)
98.7 (3rd) DRtg 108.3 (24th)