Following a blowout at the hands of the trigger happy Houston Rockets, 111-92, Milwaukee badly needs a win to avoid falling too deep within the mess of teams pushing for playoff contention in the East. Their opponent, the Orlando Magic, are in the midst of an even more struggling stretch following a 20-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, 118-98.
Wednesday’s loss to Houston was by all means a winnable game for the Bucks. Houston struggled from the field in the first half, going just 4-20 from three and ending the night at just 31.8% from deep. Milwaukee failed to take advantage of any opportunities though, while providing Houston with plenty of their own with 18 turnovers on the night.
Giannis Antetokounmpo played like the All-Star starter that he officially is now, with 32 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, one steal and three blocks. He was the only Buck that showed up to play that night, with his teammates’ mix of apathy, poor play and general dysfunction on the court damning Milwaukee anytime they got within striking distance of the Rockets.
Milwaukee finally shot a decent number of threes (28), topping 20 attempts from deep for the first time in five games. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean they were making them (25% shooting on the night) and Mirza Teletovic failed to connect on his four attempts despite finally getting some run.
It was one of the team’s messiest performances of the year and only continued the peculiar recent turn of events for Jabari Parker, who’s looked passive offensively after his destructive stretch several weeks ago. He’s hesitant to take anyone down on the block anymore, and seems to be searching for passes or settling for jump shots instead of finding his way to the tin. The Bucks need all their players to snap out of whatever funk they’re collectively in, but Jabari Parker returning to his effective offensive days is a necessity if Milwaukee’s going to avoid a further losing streak.
When Milwaukee and Orlando last squared off in November, the Magic were a team wildly overperforming their expected win-loss record, maintaining a record somewhat close to .500. Now, they’ve sunk closer to their expected W-L with a 17-27 record, due mainly to going 2-9 in their last 11 games.
Part of their issues have been the loss of Evan Fournier, who missed five games with a heel injury, before coming back and reportedly having those issues stretch further into his entire foot. He didn’t play against the Pelicans, and there’s no timetable for his return. For a team bereft of shooters, losing Fournier’s competency from deep isn’t an easy thing to replace. That hasn’t stopped the team from firing away though, ranking 12th in the league on three-point attempts (26.4) but only 27th in terms of percentage (33.8).
Milwaukee should benefit from lackluster offensive rebounding by Orlando who rank 24th with a 21.7% offensive rebounding percentage. The Bucks’ defensive rebounding percentage - a bugaboo for this team over the last few years - had been up to around 20th or so earlier in the season, but they’ve dropped to 25th now at 75.4%.
Orlando’s inconsistent pieces have hampered them throughout the year. Elfrid Payton hasn’t found a deep shot or made the leap the team expected, although he’s managed to put up more numbers over the last several games including a near triple-double 28-point, nine rebound, nine assist outburst against Utah. Aaron Gordon continues to be an enigma who hasn’t raised his floor to the point Orlando needs. He’s capable of going off, particularly if his mercurial three-point shot happens to be going down that night, but he also disappears at random. His shot and point totals from the last four games are rather indicative of this fluctuation: 14 PTS (13 FGA), 4 PTS (6 FGA) 21 PTS (14 FGA), 8 PTS (5 FGA). It’s a bizarre back-and-forth, and that’s not even mentioning Mario Hezonja who remains firmly chained to the bench.
This is a struggling Orlando team that Milwaukee needs to win against if they hope to get off this schneid and not distance themselves from the playoffs as they approach the All-Star break.
Evan Fournier is listed as questionable for the Magic, and so is Bismack Biyombo with a right knee contusion, although Biyombo played against the Pelicans on Wednesday with the same ailment.