After a distressing drubbing by the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday 113-104, the Milwaukee Bucks hope they can stave off the three-point barrage of the Houston Rockets tonight, who are coming off a tight loss to the depleted Miami Heat, 109-103.
Milwaukee’s losses to the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers on back-to-back days featured two of their poorest performances of the season. A Bucks’ defense that was once ranked in the top-ten has now slid to 15th at 105.4. Additionally, whatever supernatural skill they used to force opponents to miss three-pointers seems to have dissipated, with Milwaukee’s three-point defense now ranked 12th at 35.6%.
That regression was on full display against Philadelphia, who launched up a whopping 37 three-pointers, connecting on fourteen of them for 37.8% shooting. Those fourteen happened to be as many three-pointers as the Bucks attempted on the day, and Milwaukee’s now shot the least number of threes in the league, 19.2, over the past ten games. Here’s Eric and Frank’s preview of tonight’s game on Locked on Bucks, discussing plenty of insightful strategies including whether the Bucks may go small against Houston’s sometimes diminutive frontcourt.
Giannis still starred in the Atlanta game, and looked like a dynamo in the first half against Philadelphia with 21 points before petering out in the second half, going -17 while battling foul trouble. It was a troubling loss all around, with Joel Embiid’s ability to bully Milwaukee’s bigs and get to the free throw line hampering the team all afternoon. Houston’s center position doesn’t stack up quite as well, with Clint Capela just returning from an injury and Nene or Montrezl Harrell being simply competent backups.
Milwaukee will have to contain themselves from fouling James Harden though, who leads the league in free throw attempts per game at 10.5. Lastly, their defense will have to tighten up against the three happy Rockets, particularly after leaving players wide open far too often against Philadelphia.
Houston’s success has been one of the more impressive developments of the NBA season, with their presumed suspect defense cobbling together an 18th ranked defensive rating at 105.7. That may not seem superb, but when the team is scoring at the third most efficient mark in the league, one only needs an average defense to win plenty of games. Despite their loss to the Heat last night, the Rockets are still 7-3 in their last ten. They also attempted merely 39 attempts from three against Miami, one below their season average, so they’ll be looking for any excuse to launch from deep tonight especially if Ryan Anderson returns from his illness.
The offense is a dizzying delight under the oversight of new coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni empowered James Harden to be the primary ball handler before the season, and it’s paid dividends, with Harden putting up MVP-level numbers at Per-36 marks of 28 points, 8.1 rebounds and a whopping 11.5 assists. He’s fifth in the league with a 34% usage, but maintains an absurd 28.5% assist percentage, 61.1% true shooting percentage and a 7.4 net rating.
Around him, the Rockets powered up their perimeter attack with the gunning duo of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, who are both shooting 40.3% from deep on nine and 6.9 three attempts per game respectively. They are indicative of the Rockets’ taking Moreyball to maximalist levels this year, shooting a league leading 40 attempts from three per game (Cleveland is second at 33.1), with only 7.6 attempts from the midrange.
Houston even reached 61 three-point attempts earlier this year against the New Orleans Pelicans. With the Bucks’ scheme effectively designed to allow threes, tonight’s affair could be an, interesting, exercise in their defensive ability.
Eric Gordon left last night’s game with an injury, but did return. Ryan Anderson was out with an illness, and there’s no word yet on whether he’ll give it a go tonight. Clint Capela returned against the Heat after missing 15 straight games, and seems to be set to start again tonight.