Another week, another chance at trying to break a five-game losing streak. At least, that’s hopefully the mindset the Milwaukee Bucks enter tonight’s rematch with the visiting Houston Rockets. While their previous encounter last Wednesday saw the Bucks scored in a 92-111 loss, there has to be at least a remote chance at staunching the bleeding. That, or perhaps I’m simply delusional and will subject my eyes to another Houston three-point barrage. Before that pain, though, let’s preview!
So, where do we begin? The Bucks are mired in losing ways, Jabari Parker was thrashed by teammates in a post-game meeting in Orlando, Parker disclosed the meeting to media, Parker gets benched, and now here we are. Things could, in a way, be going a bit better.
Unfortunately, things look to only get tougher from here on out. The Rockets will be in town this evening. Following that, the next four games are: v. Philadelphia (Embiid-Antetokounmpo II, some are billing it), @ Toronto, v. Boston, and finally @ Utah to close the month of January. As their record sags below .500, it would be reasonable to expect the worst against teams that have either shown themselves to have a higher ceiling, or who have certain players that make matchups difficult (Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert coming to top of mind).
The immediate challenge is, of course, the Rockets. Houston’s 44 (!) three-point attempts last Wednesday were an anomaly in that the Rockets are the most prolific distance-shooting team in the league. However, the problem of the sagging defense continues to shove its way to the fore. Since December 16th, Milwaukee has only kept one team under 100 points (v. OKC on Jan. 2nd) and have gone from a 11th-rated defensive rating (106.5) down to 20th at 108.9. Could there be a coincidence there? I’m not sure, but I’d hedge my bets towards yes.
Outside of a collapsing defense, there are the myriad of poor performances (or lack of performances at all) from a large majority of the roster. Giannis continues to play at a supremely high level, putting together 24 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals against the Heat, but he’s just not getting the help he needs. Just look to Malcolm Brogdon’s 1-10 shooting night from the bench (rookie wall, anyone?), and to the measly 34 points the bench contributed (18, sans Parker’s contribution) to see some red lights.
Combining a one-dimensional offense with a poor defense isn’t working, and the Bucks are drifting further out of the playoff picture because of it.
On the injury front, only Middleton will be listed as unable to perform this evening.
Where the Bucks have failed, the Rockets continue to shine. Since last Wednesday, they lost in a high-scoring shootout with the Golden State Warriors and went on to topple the Memphis Grizzlies.
Obviously, not much of the scouting report on Houston has shifted in less than a week: James Harden continues to be a complete revelation under coach Mike D’Antoni, the three-pointers continue to go up at a dizzying rate, and their high-pace play (4th in the league) allows for a maximum of possessions on the offensive end. You don’t have to be a great defensive team if you have the ball a lot and convert a significant number of those possessions into points.
The key thing to watch, as with every evening, will be whether or not coach Jason Kidd and Co. adjust the defensive scheme in any meaningful way to put the clamps on the perimeter. You may be unable to truly hold down Harden on any given evening, but the likes of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon may get a bit of spotlight. Giannis may be able to take away a lot of room from opposing shooters, but he is only a fifth of the defensive complement. Simply throwing players at opponents in an attempt to chase the ball around the court most likely won’t cut it, much like it didn’t last week.
One area where Milwaukee may be able to take advantage? Houston turns the ball over at one of the highest rates in the league (TOV% of 13.6); Milwaukee thrives in a high-pace environment where their athletic powerhouses can make the most of an open court. Converting on fast-breaks and turnovers won’t win the game alone, but it suggests an option for slowing Houston’s scintillating offense down if only for a moment.
For injuries, only Ryan Anderson is a maybe heading into tonight after missing the Memphis game with illness. As of now, he’s slated as having a good chance of coming back against the Bucks this evening.