The Milwaukee Bucks continue their rise through the Eastern Conference ranks after trading for point guard Eric Bledsoe, having won three straight contests. Tonight, a showdown against the surprising Detroit Pistons looms large; when these two teams last clashed, Detroit took control of the game from the foul line (28 FTs vs. 9 FTs for the Bucks), and forced Giannis Antetokounmpo into a super-inefficient 29 points on 27 shots.
The past three games have been a breath of fresh air, and the easiest catalyst to point at is newcomer Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe’s box score stats aren’t terribly impressive, but his energy level on defense and speed with the ball on offense seems to have unlocked a higher gear for the Bucks as a whole. Giannis continues with his MVP-level start (31.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 1.5 steals), and Khris Middleton (18.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, but only 30.6% from deep) may have shaken off his annual early-season slump. Mirza Teletovic is likely out for tonight’s game, and Jabari Parker remains sidelined until his ACL rehab is complete.
Player to Watch: John Henson
Few fans expected it, but John Henson was a key player in the team’s recent victory over Memphis. Henson, who delivered a line of 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks, made a number of key defensive plays and showed a level of playmaking we were not expecting. Replacing Thon Maker in the starting lineup was a move that Jason Kidd almost had to make (given Thon’s early season struggles), but Henson is in one of those grooves that makes you believe that he’s turning into more than a rotation player. Tonight, Henson will have a major challenge checking the much larger and much stronger Andre Drummond...and when Drummond sits he’ll face the even larger Boban Marjanovich.
Since a 20-point loss to the Lakers, Detroit has rattled off five straight victories by seven (or more) points per game. Most recently, the Pistons prevailed over the Miami Heat on Sunday 112-103. Former Buck Tobias Harris scored 25, pesky defender Avery Bradley scored 24, and Andre Drummond bullied his way to a preposterous-for-anybody-else-but-him 17 rebounds on the day. Jon Leuer continues to be questionable with an ankle injury, and Stanley Johnson may make his return this evening.
Player to Watch: Stanley Johnson
The third-year forward from Arizona has generally underwhelmed during his career in Detroit, and his return from a hip injury could be a wrench in the well-oiled Pistons offense. If Johnson returns, he will have a heavy minutes load (averaging over 30 mpg in the 10 games he has played), which will either help the Pistons or push them out of sync. The Bucks will have their hands full containing Harris and Bradley already, so Stanley getting his groove back could spell trouble for Milwaukee.