With less than two weeks left in the NBA regular season calendar, the most meaningful battle between the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic might be in the lottery standings; tonight they'll play some actual basketball, too.
The Bucks (31-44) enter the night ninth in the lotto standings, percentage points worse than the tenth seeded Denver Nuggets (32-45) and just a game worse than the eleventh seeded Magic (32-43). Meanwhile the Knicks (30-46) and Kings (30-45) are only one win behind the Bucks in the seven/eight spots, meaning the last two weeks of the season could still see a major swing in the final lottery standings. While there may not be a huge drop-off in available talent in the mid-lottery, bear in mind that the odds of snagging a top-three pick are five times higher for the seven seed (15%) vs. eleven seed (2.9%).
The Bucks snapped a five-game losing streak on Wednesday, though they weren't exactly convincing in beating the sorry Phoenix Suns 105-104. Phoenix committed 24 turnovers and were held to just 20.8 percent from deep — the fifth lowest mark by a Bucks opponent this season -- as the Bucks rode Khris Middleton early and late. Consider it a positive sign for a Bucks team that has been among the worst teams in the league at defending the three point line.
Khris Middleton scored a game-high 26 points — including nine of his 26 in the final 7:31 — to get the Bucks back in the win column. Jabari Parker also added 21 while Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson and Tyler Ennis each added 10.
Wednesday's game also marked Greivis Vasquez's first action since Nov. 27. He didn't score any points (missing a layup and a spot-up triple), but dished out three flashy assists and pulled down three boards in 12 solid minutes.
Vasquez was thankful the Bucks organization helped him return to the floor before the season ended.
"It also shows the class act this franchise is, too. They've been with me the whole time.
"I was ready a few days ago but we wanted to take things a little bit slow. Tonight was a good night and I felt pretty good, I moved pretty good."
Injury report: Jerryd Bayless is listed as doubtful for tonight's game after sustaining a right knee injury against the Suns. Ennis is questionable due to a shoulder sprain, possibly giving Vasquez the start at point.
- Aron Yohannes
Is there any team that makes for a better Bucks doppelgänger than the Magic?
A bunch of fun young players? Check. A talented big man whose defensive shortcomings may ultimately limit his team's success (Greg Monroe and Nikola Vucevic)? Yep. A young, athletic point guard who can't really shoot and might not work out as a starter (MCW and Elfrid Payton)? Affirmative. A smooth-shooting wing who came into his own after being given away by his first team (Khris Middleton and Evan Fournier)? Indeed! Scott Skiles, Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova together?!?! MAGIC BUCKIN' KINGDOM, BABY!
Separated by just a game in the standings and boasting identical offensive efficiencies, Milwaukee and Orlando might as well be Eastern Conference sister cities, and as such they come into Friday night's tilt in Milwaukee with similarly perverse incentives. Neither team will make the playoffs -- disappointing for most in Milwaukee, less shocking for Orlando -- leaving them with little but developmental purposes and lotto standings to play for over the season's final two weeks.
Perhaps most notably, Aaron Gordon has shown more consistent flashes of his long-term talent since Tobias Harris was swapped for Jennings and Ilyasova, averaging early 12 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes per game since the deadline. He should make for a fascinating matchup against Giannis and Jabari on both ends, particularly on defense where his athleticism allows him to seamlessly defend both bigs and smalls.
As for the two former Bucks...well, that deal predictably isn't looking so hot. While Harris was ultimately deemed surplus to requirements for the Magic, Jennings and Ilyasova are both coming off the bench, playing fewer than 20 minutes a night and shooting under 40% from the field. With both hitting unrestricted free agency this summer, the Magic face the very real possibility that they'll have nothing to show for Harris come July -- one more thing they might have in common with their friends in Wisconsin.
- Frank Madden
Frank joined the On the NBA Beat podcast to talk all things Bucks on Tuesday:
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|April 1, 2016|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Greivis Vasquez (?)||PG||Elfrid Payton|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Victor Oladipo|
|Jabari Parker||SF||Evan Fournier|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||PF||Aaron Gordon|
|Greg Monroe||C||Dewayne Dedmon|
|2015/16 Advanced Stats|
|94.0 (24th)||Pace||94.1 (22nd)|
|104.6 (23rd)||ORtg||104.6 (24th)|
|108.6 (23rd)||DRtg||106.4 (16th)|