The Milwaukee Bucks' playoff hopes may have faded
weeks months ago, but they'll still have a chance to impact the playoff picture when they square off against the ninth seeds in both the East and West over the next 48 hours.
On Sunday the Bucks welcome the Utah Jazz for an early evening affair at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and 24 hours later they'll be in Detroit to take on the similarly desperate Pistons. Not exactly the type of drama the Bucks were hoping for when they started the season, but it'll have to do for now.
We expected the Bucks to beat the depleted Grizzlies on Thursday. What we didn't expect was how they would beat a Grizz lineup that was basically Lance Stephenson, Matt Barnes, Tony Allen and a bunch of D-Leaguers.
With his starters struggling to find any rhythm on either end, Jason Kidd rolled the dice with a dual-big, all-reserve lineup featuring Tyler Ennis, Rashad Vaughn, Damien Inglis, Miles Plumlee and John Henson. Not exactly the kind of group you'd expect to flourish most nights, but somehow it all worked out brilliantly: Inglis scored a career-high 10 and helped turn the screws on Stephenson, Ennis scored a career-best 13 points (all in the fourth), and Plumlee and Henson dominated the paint on a night when the Bucks blocked a season-best 17 shots. As precisely no one would have expected, the Bucks didn't need a minute of the ever-brilliant Giannis Antetokounmpo (15 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, three blocks) and company in the fourth, as the Bucks' starters embraced the role of raucous cheerleaders in one of the zaniest fourth quarters we've seen this season.
Don't expect the Bucks to make that kind of hay regularly with a five-man bench unit, but it was certainly an encouraging night for Inglis and Ennis in particular. They won't face many lineups with less aggregate talent and experience than the Grizzlies group we saw on Thursday, but hopefully it's a confidence-booster heading into the final month of the season. Has Inglis finally beaten out JOB for backup forward minutes? With 10 days of pretty good play under his belt, could Ennis be blossoming into something resembling an NBA rotation player? And will the Jazz's formidable front line mean more minutes for the dual big man combo of Plumlee and Henson? They're all key questions to watch starting Sunday.
On the injury front, Greivis Vasquez appears to be getting closer to returning from the ankle injury that has kept him out since the first month of the season, though no word yet on when that might be. Rashad Vaughn also isn't with the team following Friday's decision to ship him to the D-League (Canton specifically) for some short-term seasoning, hinting that the Bucks will take a look at Jared Cunningham at some point over the next few days. Speaking of which, it does seem odd to see Vaughn demoted only after O.J. Mayo was ruled out for the season, though you could argue that Vaughn's struggles had become so pronounced that he needed something to shake him out his season-long shooting slump. Unfortunately for Vaughn, he didn't get his bearings in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, combining to shoot just 5/21 from the field and 0/6 from three.
Utah enters Sunday night's tilt just a game back of the eighth seeded Mavericks out West, though it's worth noting that 538 still projects them to catch Dallas for the final playoff spot. The Jazz saw their four-game win streak snapped Saturday night in Chicago, falling 92-85 to the Bulls despite 24 points from Derrick Favors. Unfortunately he didn't get much help, as Gordon Hayward struggled through a 4-13 shooting night and Rudy Gobert managed just two points, seven rebounds and a single block.
The Jazz know how to use their size up front, playing at the slowest pace in the league and ranking third in offensive rebound rate. However, they only rank 20th in points in the paint, reflective of the fact that their slow pace limits their easy buckets (29th in fast break baskets) and Gobert isn't much of a threat to score at all. They still rank a solid 13th in offensive efficiency, but it's not typically a matter of pounding away at opponents inside. More impressive is their defense, which is built around Gobert's elite rim protection but also allows the fourth-fewest three point shot attempts in the NBA.
On the injury front, Alec Burks (ankle) and Dante Exum (knee) are out for the season, while Hayward had missed two games with plantar fasciitis before returning against the Bulls.
|15/16 NBA Season|
|March 20, 2016|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee
|Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Jerryd Bayless||PG||Shelvin Mack|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Rodney Hood|
|Jabari Parker||SF||Gordon Hayward|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||PF||Derrick Favors|
|Greg Monroe||C||Rudy Gobert|
|2015/16 Advanced Stats|