As you pack away the pumpkin pie and assorted Thanksgiving leftovers, the Milwaukee Bucks are as thankful as anyone to have emerged with a win Wednesday night over the Suns. They hope to follow up with another victory tonight against the Utah Jazz despite their lack of depth.
While the absence of Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson were expected in the dry air of Phoenix, the late scratch of Giannis Antetokonmpo gave Bucks fans white knuckles on Turkey Day Eve. Apparently nursing the same injury that ailed him during the international affair that saw him dip out from the Greek National Team this summer, Giannis’ absence meant the Bucks would be looking for an unconventional win without their superstar. Even when Jason Kidd made the curious, borderline nonsensical, choice to start Gary Payton II and Malcolm Brogdon alongside Eric Bledsoe, "early season disappointment" Khris Middleton emerged with a 40-point outburst to will the team to victory. Not to be left behind on this vengeful night, Bledsoe put up 30 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Their combined might managed to outlast a Suns squad paced by a salty Greg Monroe, who bulldozed his way to 22 and 15 against his former team. The OT contest meant it tested an already depleted team, but the two days off and likely return of John Henson and Giannis, both of whom were practicing with the team and listed as probable for tonight, mean Milwaukee should be hopefully closer to full strength.
Player to Watch: Thon Maker
Thon had a reasonably strong showing against a burly Phoenix frontline, ending with 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the absence of Henson. Most interestingly, all of those scores came without a single attempt from behind the 3-point line. Maker went 4-4 from the free throw line as well, a place he can struggle to get to given his sticklike figure. The fact he was able to get there and post an efficient scoring night (6-11) is enough to provide some hope that had been missing from his recent string of performances. Hopefully he can show up again tonight against the bulk of Derrick Favors down low.
Utah was a trendy pick to outperform expectations this season after the departure of Gordon Hayward. The thought was that they could provide an elite defensive presence between the Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert, menacing pest Ricky Rubio and a fleet of decent wings from Joe Ingles to Alec Burks to Jonas Jerebko and on down the line. Unfortunately, the early season injury to Gobert threw a frustrating wrench into those plans, as the Jazz have gone 3-4 since their towering center went down. Those three wins have also come against Brooklyn, Orlando and Chicago. However, Quin Snyder has shown a strong ability to deal with injuries to key pieces before whether that was Favors, Burks or the disappointing season-ending one for Dante Exum earlier this year. Indeed, the Jazz are still sitting tied for sixth in defensive rating and scraping by on offense to post a positive 0.4 net rating. Utah is basically what we thought they would be, a poor offensive team with a lethargic pace and elite defense. That’s been enough to post impressive win totals in the past under Snyder, now it’s just a matter of whether that will hold up without Gobert.
Player to Watch: Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell was a player many hoped might drop to the Bucks this year before he shot up draft boards as the workout process continued. His drool-worthy wingspan and electric athleticism were enough to make him seem like an ideal fit in Milwaukee’s wackadoo scheme, but alas he headed to the Rockies instead. Mitchell has gotten plenty of playing time for the Jazz, even starting 11 games this year, but his shot has been off the mark. He has an effective field goal percentage of just 43.4% and is nailing just 31.8% of his threes, albeit on an impressive 5.6 attempts per game. Maybe Khris Middleton can take a page out of his trigger happy book. I’ll be curious to see whether they choose to let Rubio badger Bledsoe or sick Mitchell’s energetic legs on him instead.