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Bucks vs. Jazz Preview: Milwaukee speeds west to battle Utah

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Utah is the first stop on a three-game Western road trip for Milwaukee

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Another game, another depressing loss for the Milwaukee Bucks last Saturday night, as the Boston Celtics thwarted a furious late comeback by Milwaukee to beat the Bucks, 112-108 in overtime. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz are coming off a 102-95 defeat against Memphis last Saturday as well.

Bucks Update

Things are great in Bucks land. Giannis is going through his biggest rut of the season, and though his numbers haven’t dipped drastically - he had 21 points, six assists and six rebounds against Boston - he’s struggled getting to the basket, and in turn, the free throw line with the same regularity he was in December. After averaging 8.8 free throw attempts per game in December, Giannis averaged merely 5.7 in January. His three-point percentage dipped back closer to his career average as well, shooting 28.6% on three attempts per game as opposed to 36.6% on 2.6 attempts per game in December.

Giannis’ slump is small potatoes though compared to the tough sledding Jabari faced against Boston. With only four points, and at least as many mental defensive errors, Jabari had his worst game of the season, and one of his worst games of the calendar year. Jason Kidd even yanked him at one point for Michael Beasley due to his defensive errors. That about sums up how his night went.

Besides Greg Monroe’s continued value to the team, almost single handedly willing them back into the game, the most promising moments to emerge from the Boston game was this little sequence from Thon Maker:

Flashing some of the defensive potential the Bucks hoped they’d have with his freakish build, the more promising part of that sequence to me was Thon catching the ball from Dellavedova and finishing fluidly at the rim. His small hand size has remained his biggest question mark for me, but if he’s giving the Bucks these types of contributions, it’s hard to see as much usefulness in carving more minutes out for the depressing duo of Plumlee and Henson. This stretch of games will prove useful in evaluating Thon at the center position, as he’ll be up against Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and Tyson Chandler. Not exactly Amir Johnson types.

How Milwaukee will attack Utah’s second-ranked defense could revolve around Thon spacing the floor to draw Rudy Gobert away from the rim, a topic touched on in Frank and Eric’s Thon Maker centric Locked on Bucks episode. Doing so should allow Giannis or Jabari more opportunity to attack the rim effectively. The Jazz’s weakest link is most likely Trey Lyles at this point, but both Giannis and Jabari should have size mismatches whether they’re guarded by Lyles or Hayward in the frontcourt. Those two will have to find their rhythm again in a hurry.

Jazz Update

The Jazz dropped a close contest to the Grizzlies last Saturday with Derrick Favors out of the lineup for rest. That’s really been the story this year for the Jazz, who’ve faced an annual tradition of injuries aplenty. It’s only recently that they’ve been able to get their preferred starting five of Hill-Hood-Hayward-Favors-Gobert out on the court. It’s sounding like Favors may miss tonight’s game though, so the Bucks may miss out. Surprisingly, that lineup is actually a -4.7 net rating on the season and been inert offensively.

Utah’s plays at a glacial pace, the slowest in the league, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been overly protective of the ball. Their 14.5 offensive turnover percentage is actually tied for 19th in the league, one spot behind Milwaukee. The Jazz make up for that with strong transition defense, allowing the 11th least points off turnovers (15.3), and the 2nd least fast break points (10.7). Neither of those are good signs for Milwaukee.

The Jazz really make their living on defense, with the second best defensive rating (101.6) behind Golden State. They defend the three namely by never allowing their opponents to shoot it from deep. Opponents are attempting only 22.7 three-pointers per game against the Jazz, the least in the league, and they have the best opponent effective field goal percentage at 48.4%. At least the mountains are a fitting stage for a rock fight.

Offensively the Jazz shoot about a league average amount of threes (25.9), although that’s skewed down a bit by their lethargic pace. The good news is that despite Rudy Gobert making a leap this year, their offensive rebounding percentage remains just 23rd in the league at 21.9. Beyond their starting group, Utah has a couple of suitable veterans in Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw who will certainly attack the Bucks backup frontcourt spots whenever Giannis or Jabari get a spell.

The Jazz are just a spot behind the Clippers for the fourth spot in the West, and they’ll be hoping to put as much distance as possible between them and LA while Chris Paul remains out.

Derrick Favors was listed as day-to-day as of yesterday, so he may be a gametime decision tonight for Utah.