Two years ago, Larry Drew's Bucks (in)famously managed to out-tank the Philadelphia 76ers, finishing a full four games behind Philly in Sam Hinkie's first year on the job.
Fast forward two years and many things have changed, though you might not be able to tell from the product you'll see on the court Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. Hinkie is now gone and Philly fans are furious at the Colangelo cabal, while the Bucks have disappointed this season but can at least take solace in building around young stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. Either way, both teams are once again lottery-bound, which along with a slew of injuries to both teams means Sunday's matinee won't be confused for a beauty contest.
At 9-30 on the road, the Bucks aren't typically favored to win NBA basketball games outside the state of Wisconsin -- especially considering the kiddie lineups we've seen from Jason Kidd's club over the past couple weeks. But there's nothing typical about Philly and its 7-33 home record, which means that the Bucks' lottery-friendly three game losing streak would seem due to get snapped Sunday afternoon. But let's be honest: anything can happen in the NBA, and it'd be a mistake to take anything for granted with the cast of youngsters Kidd has been playing of late.
In other words, this isn't a game that's going to win over casual fans, though the Bucks do offer at least two very good reasons for die-hards to keep tuning in: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. Giannis has averaged 25.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists over the last four games (seriously), while Jabari has averaged nearly 22 points on 51.6% shooting over his last five. You don't want to make too much out of guys stuffing stat sheets in meaningless late season games, but their overall numbers since the all-star break shouldn't be confused for luck:
Since all-star:— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) April 9, 2016
Giannis 19.2 ppg/8.6 rpg/7.4 apg/1.8 bpg/1.4 spg/56.5% TS%/23.8 PER
Jabari 19.2 ppg/6.2 rpg/2.4 apg/54.9% TS%/16.8 PER
On the injury front, Khris Middleton (sore thigh) is traveling with the team but once again listed as doubtful; needless to say there's zero reason for him to risk anything. Otherwise it's the usual cast of injury absences for the Bucks: Jerryd Bayless (knee), Michael Carter-Williams (hip), O.J. Mayo (ankle), Steve Novak (knee).
As for the lottery:
Things getting interesting in mid-lotto. Bucks 9th but tied with 7th/8th placed Kings and Knicks with 32 wins. pic.twitter.com/N51zJwop9x— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) April 10, 2016
The Sixers are terrible, but odds are you probably already knew that, right?
Philly needed a win over New Orleans on Tuesday to avoid becoming just the second team in NBA history to fall short of double-digit wins, and no team scores fewer points per possession than Brett Brown's club, which ranks 25th or worst in virtually every major offensive category available. That's perhaps not surprising for a team woefully short of NBA talent, though their offensive ineptitude isn't as disappointing as their defensive dropoff: after hustling their way to the league's 13th-best defense a year ago, they've slid all the way to 26th this season.
Still, they've actually been dramatically better since the re-arrival of former Buck Ish Smith back in December, who gave them a shot in the arm last season but was subsequently allowed to walk over the summer. They were an unconscionably bad 1-30 when Smith was re-acquired from New Orleans, but have been a terrible-but-still-much-improved 9-39 since. Though he still struggles as a shooter (39.8% from the field, 32.5% from deep), Smith's quickness and playmaking abilities (7.0 apg) have helped on both ends.
The only other bit of good news for Philly: Nerlens Noel returned to lineup against the Pelicans earlier this week and played 33 minutes against the Knicks, so he should get the starting nod at center over Elton Brand -- that's right, Elton Brand started at center earlier this week. Otherwise Jahlil Okafor (knee), Joel Embiid (foot), Richaun Holmes (Achilles) and Isaiah Canaan (shoulder) are all out.
|2015/2016 NBA Season|
|April 10, 2016|
|Well Fargo Center | Philadelphia|
|FS Wisconsin+ | 105.9 The Fan|
|Tyler Ennis||PG||Ish Smith|
|Rashad Vaughn||SG||Nik Stauskas|
|Jabari Parker||SF||Robert Covington|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||PF||Jerami Grant|
|Greg Monroe||C||Nerlens Noel|
|2015/16 Advanced Stats|
|94.2 (23rd)||Pace||98.0 (6th)|
|104.5 (24th)||ORtg||98.6 (30th)|
|108.9 (25th)||DRtg||108.9 (26th)|