The big story heading into tonight is clearly the potential debut of the Bucks shiniest new piece, Eric Bledsoe. We’re waiting to hear confirmation on what capacity he will play tonight, but everyone is eager to see the athletic guard provide a jumpstart for a disappointing supporting cast to this point.
Milwaukee is mired in the midst of a disappointing swoon. They have now lost four straight after the halcyon days of 4-2, their latest a five point drop to the Cavaliers. A furious late game comeback and ho-hum 40-point explosion from Giannis weren’t enough as Kevin "Skinny" Love bullied his way to 32 points (14-16 from the stripe) and 16 rebounds. Khris Middleton posted a near triple double with 20 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists, but continued a rough start from deep cashing in just 2-7 attempts.
What remains stuck in most fan’s craw remains the horrid defensive performance. The Cleveland game featured a turnstile battle of cellar-dwelling defenses, and Milwaukee more than did their part to live up to the billing. They won’t be facing a team with the same offensive firepower (San Antonio ranks just 19th in offensive efficiency), but Pop knows how to pick at scabs better than any coach in the league. After seeing how teams have carved up Milwaukee’s lean interior, I’m sure LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are licking their chops.
Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
Duh. The Bucks most prominent addition since signing Greg Monroe (RIP) will be blasting through San Antonio defenders tonight hoping to pummel the rim alongside Giannis. I’ll be curious to see whether he starts tonight or not, as well as how he functions alongside Giannis and Khris, the latter of whom will likely take a smaller role as a playmaker. Regardless of how much he plays, I’d say this is the most-anticipated Bucks debut in some time.
Like clockwork, Gregg Popovich has his beleaguered team humming along even without Kawhi Leonard or Tony Parker available. They’ve been a team of runs this year, winning four, losing four and currently on a three-game winning streak over Charlotte, Phoenix and the Clippers. LaMarcus Aldridge has carried the offensive load in Leonard’s absence, averaging 24.4 per-36, while Pop’s tinkered with his supporting cast. Dejounte Murray no longer starts, Patty Mills has taken over that job, but his lanky game should be an interesting match if he faces off against Bledsoe on bench units. This isn’t your older brother’s Spurs team though, as they’re second-to-last in 3-point attempts at just 22.6 per game. They’ve sacrificed those for midrange jumpers, with 17.0% of their scoring coming from that generally maligned area, a mark that ranks fourth in the league. Milwaukee’s defense is currently suited to excel against nothing at the moment, but at least midrange jumpers are something they can live with given teams have been shooting 40.5% against them from deep, second-best in the league.
Player to Watch: Pau Gasol
Gasol’s been a Bucks killer for years and his expanded range could be enough to draw both Henson and Maker away from the paint. Not that their presence has deterred any team from scoring to this point, but it’s a situation whereby Thon’s impact specifically may be neutered a bit tonight. Even if he draws Gasol away from the rim, it’s not like he’s a noted stalwart there anyway. Look for Gasol and Aldridge to try and get Milwaukee’s bigs in foul trouble early again too, a seeming constant in the early going of this year.