Third quarters have statistically been the Bucks' best period this season, but you wouldn't have known it from the past week's worth of games. The Bucks were obliterated after halftime by the Raptors a week ago, were unimpressive in the third quarter against the Grizzlies on Thursday, and then saw their chances of beating the Jazz crushed by the weight of another third quarter clunker last night. Jabari Parker (19 points, 8 rebs) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (12 pts, 7 ast) had their moments, but the Bucks fell apart after going big midway through the third and never recovered, leaving Jason Kidd to use the fourth quarter mostly as a chance to experiment with his bench lineups.
While the Jazz have perhaps the league's biggest 4/5 combo in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, Kidd inserted the Miles Plumlee/John Henson big man duo only when one of Utah's two starting bigs went to the bench in the first and third quarters. That left Henson mostly defending Trey Lyles on the perimeter and the Bucks hopelessly cramped on the offensive side, especially in the third when Utah was +8 with the Bucks' big unit in. They had fared better in the first half, though Kidd suggested after the game that he should have tried pairing one of his shot-blocking bigs with the more offensively capable Greg Monroe instead.
"I should have put (Greg Monroe) in there -- the way we were scoring the ball -- and go extremely big," Kidd said. "I thought those two were good tonight again. Being able to, one, protect the rim and, two, being able to rebound. Those two were good tonight. Seeing as we have a game tomorrow we'll probably see those two if not those three at one point."
Personally I'm not much of a fan of double-big lineups unless the matchups really call for them, and against Utah it was particularly frustrating to see them deployed when Utah wasn't particularly big. Neither Henson nor Plumlee can do anything outside of the immediate basket area offensively, so it shouldn't be too surprising that the offense ground to a half when they played together. The Bucks' bigs figure to again be center stage tonight given the difficulty of containing Andre Drummond on the boards, though having to play two bigs to counteract Drummond is exactly why he's such a valuable weapon. Piston power forwards Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Anthony Tolliver can all shoot from deep, so going with two bigs will necessarily force one of them to defend far further from the hoop than they'd like. I'd rather see the Bucks stay slightly smaller with Damien Inglis getting more time at the four, though part of the problem is that the Bucks can't play all three of Monroe, Henson and Plumlee without doubling them up semi-regularly.
On Sunday we also got our first glimpse at 10-day signing Jared Cunningham, who ironically looked a fair bit like Michael Carter-Williams while flitting around on my TV -- a rangy, athletic driver who drew a couple shooting fouls (4/4) and perhaps fittingly also airmailed a corner three. He seemed hesitant to shoot in his first burn with the Bucks, though that's probably for the best considering he's shot just 35% overall in 81 career NBA games. In short: I'm not optimistic on Cunningham's chances in Milwaukee -- especially with Rashad Vaughn floating in D-League purgatory -- though he'll have a couple more games to prove otherwise.
After winning half of their 54 games heading into the all-star break, the Pistons had one of the more high-profile trade deadlines, acquiring Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova while also acquiring Rockets big man Donatas Motiejunas for a first round pick. Alas, the latter deal was later rescinded due to Motiejunas' balky back, and the Pistons' results since the break have been a largely mixed bag since Harris replaced his former Bucks teammates in Motown.
Though they've gone 9-7 since the break including their last two games, Stan Van Gundy's bunch has seen their share of defensive wobbles since Harris arrived, allowing 107.9 points/100 since the break after conceding just 102.2 before the break. Some of that can certainly be attributed to the pairing of Harris and Marcus Morris at the forward spots, which brings more offensive versatility but at the cost of some defensive mettle -- the Pistons' starters were +3.2 in 915 minutes with Ilyasova but a more modest +0.6 in 283 minutes with Harris. How they match up with Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo should be one of the more interesting subplots tonight, especially with Giannis taking on the role of offensive playmaker.
Detroit's increased offensive proficiency has helped offset some of that defensive drop-off, but the Pistons' defensive issues have become especially acute this month, as Detroit is surrendering over 111 points/100 possessions, struggling to force turnovers, and conceding a much higher opponent shooting percentage inside the arc. The good news is that they're just three games into a nine-game homestand, and that home-heavy schedule is a big reason why 538 projects them to finish the season just ahead of the currently-eighth seeded Bulls.
Former Buck Jodie Meeks (shoulder) and Spencer Dinwiddie (ankle) are the only injury question marks for Detroit.
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|March 21, 2016|
|The Palace | Auburn Hills, MI|
|Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Jerryd Bayless||PG||Reggie Jackson|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope|
|Jabari Parker||SF||Marcus Morris|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||PF||Tobias Harris|
|Greg Monroe||C||Andre Drummond|
|2015/16 Advanced Stats|
|92.0 (30th)||Pace||95.4 (19th)|
|104.5 (23rd)||ORtg||106.1 (13th)|
|108.3 (30th)||DRtg||105.4 (12th)|