After a disheartening loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday night, the Milwaukee Bucks return to the BMOHBC for a Central Division showdown with the 14-9 Detroit Pistons. Despite the glaring flaws that continue to flare up for the Bucks, they are still 8-4 in the Eric Bledsoe Era, and still have the opportunity to considerably raise their ceiling in the Eastern Conference by banking early wins against their contemporaries. Tonight is yet another chance to get one up on a divisional rival...even though divisions don’t really matter.
The Bucks, as always, are in a weird state of flux that doesn’t make a ton of sense. This week, the defense is (again) the focus of much discussion and debate. After an encouraging stretch of improved performance, head coach Jason Kidd asked for maximum Energy and Effort in the first quarter of the Celtics game and deployed the über-aggressive trapping scheme from before...with predictable results. The defensive gameplan was apparently re-readjusted mid-game on Monday, but we had questions on why the fix was “fixed” in the first place. Games might not be won or lost in the first quarter, but it’s generally preferable to avoid falling into a hole, particiularly if it’s one of your own design.
The Bucks are starting a three-game home stand tonight, and will continue to be without Jabari Parker (knee), Matthew Dellavedova (knee), and Mirza Teletovic (knee). Joining them on the injured list is Jason Terry (calf), whose absence will make additional space for Milwaukee’s contingent of bench guards to seize an opportunity. If you’re a fan of DeAndre Liggins, Sterling Brown, and/or Rashad Vaughn, get hype!
Player to Watch: Khris Middleton
Last time against the Pistons, Khash put up a solid stat line of 27 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals, and will likely be relied upon to repeat that well-rounded performance tonight. Giannis Antetokounmpo, fresh off scoring 40 against the Celtics, was somewhat held in check last time, and Eric Bledsoe has been an uncertain bet to produce as he continues to acclimate to the team.
The Pistons enter tonight’s game having lost three in a row to talented teams; Washington whupped them, but Philadelphia and San Antonio just scraped by. Detroit is 4-5 since their last meeting against Milwaukee on November 15, and will be looking forward to matchups against Boston and Golden State after Wednesday’s game concludes. There is a chance for this to be a “trap game” for Detroit, but head coach Stan Van Gundy has generally had his players focused this season, and guard Avery Bradley seems to relish the games he’s played against the Bucks thus far this year. The Pistons’ injury list is light, with only former Buck Jon Leuer (ankle) looking at an extended absence.
Player to Watch: Tobias Harris
Another former Buck, Harris started the 2017-18 season on a tear, and is currently scoring a career-high 19.1 points per game on efficient splits of 0.478/0.464/0.894. Harris’ defensive deficiencies continue to keep him from elevating himself into the “star” tier of NBA players, but his offensive abilities take a considerable amount of pressure off of the rest of Detroit’s main cast, particularly Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, to feel like they need to score for the team to succeed.