Tuesday night's matchup between the Bucks and Cavaliers isn't likely to sway the Eastern Conference playoff picture, so let's call it what it is: a playoff tuneup for Cleveland and a measuring stick game for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and company.
The young Bucks lived up to their adjective in Sunday's narrow loss to the Bulls, starting four players 21 or younger in addition to crusty 25-year-old Greg Monroe. Even with their old man in the middle, the Bucks' average age was only a few months older than the average age of the lineups Villanova and UNC trotted out in Monday's NCAA Championship game, which combined with its lottery implications makes Milwaukee's 102-98 loss to the playoff-chasing Bulls rather tolerable. Also making that game more tolerable: big nights from Giannis Antetokounmpo (34 points, 9 assists) and Jabari Parker (24 points, 11 rebounds), which were sorely needed considering Khris Middleton (strained quad) was held out for the first time all season.
Middleton and Jerryd Bayless (knee) are both question marks again tonight, which could pave the way for 20-year-oldDamien Inglis and 19-year-old Rashad Vaughn to reprise their roles in the starting five for the second straight game. Vaughn scored seven points, grabbed four boards and blocked two shots in 29 minutes, while Inglis didn't play in the second half as Johnny O'Bryant got the nod. Don't expect the Bucks' youth movement to make the game any prettier over the season's final week, but with the playoffs out of reach there's no reason for Jason Kidd not to let his youngsters get some run, especially guys with non-guaranteed deals like JOB and Inglis.
Current lottery picture: Bucks 10th, won't fall further than 11th, outside chance at 7th/8th.pic.twitter.com/aIIfthwCnLâ Frank Madden (@brewhoop) April 5, 2016
The Cavs begin their three-game road trip tonight with a comfortable 3.5 game lead on Toronto for the top spot in the East, which all but assures them of home court advantage through the conference finals. Not a bad result for a team that fired its head coach midseason, trudged along under his successor for a couple months, and had recently been in the headlines primarily for LeBron's weird off-court behavior. Still, Tyronn Lue's first real statement as Cavs coach -- basically telling LeBron to knock it off -- appears to be paying dividends, as the Cavs might just be coming around at the right time.
Moreover, for all the attention he's attracted off the court, LeBron has been virtually unstoppable on it, racking up two player of the week honors in a row and posting insane averages of 28.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 9.6 assists over the last seven games. Giannis has always seemed to raise his game when he faces off against LeBron -- he scored a then-career-best 33 in Cleveland earlier this season and posted 24/6/6 there a couple weeks ago -- and tonight he faces the King at the height of his still-incredible powers.
Meanwhile, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving's numbers since the break haven't experienced the same spike -- despite solid raw numbers, they're each shooting 32% from deep in that span -- but the Cavs still have the league's second-best offense (110.0 ORtg) and fifth best net rating (6.1) in that span. If there's an issue it's on the defensive end, where the Cavs have fallen from seventh before the break to tenth since -- not a bad thing if your ambition is an Eastern Conference title, but rather problematic if you're hoping to knock off Golden State, San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the Finals.
Irving is listed as questionable with a sprained ankle, so given the (un)importance of the game look for Matthew Dellavedova to likely get the start next to J.R. Smith in the backcourt.
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|April 5, 2016|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee|
|Fox Sports Wisconsin + | 105.7 FM The Fan|
|Rashad Vaughn||PG||Matthew Dellavedova|
|Khris Middleton||SG||J.R. Smith|
|Jabari Parker||SF||LeBron James|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||PF||Kevin Love|
|Greg Monroe||C||Timofey Mozgov|
|2015/16 Advanced Stats|
|94.1 (23rd)||Pace||93.3 (27th)|
|104.7 (23rd)||ORtg||110.7 (3rd)|
|108.6 (24th)||DRtg||104.2 (8th)|