After falling to the Los Angeles Lakers 122-114 (despite a career high 41 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo), Milwaukee travels to Indiana to take on a Pacers squad that’s been streaking lately, despite dropping a close game 112-107 to Washington on Friday night.
Still reeling from the devastating Jabari Parker injury, the Bucks season presses on against a formidable Eastern Conference foe in the Pacers, ranked 6th in the east with a 29-24 record.
Their last matchup was on November third which the Bucks won handily, 125-107, but the Bucks latest swoon doesn’t seem likely to end on the road in a back-to-back as they struggle to rediscover their identity. The Bucks’ 22nd-ranked defense has given up over 100 points in 19 straight games; the last time they held an opponent under that mark was January 2nd against the Thunder.
Heavy reliance on Antetokounmpo’s playmaking will probably increase further as the season rolls on, so prepare for his 28.5% usage rate to climb higher and higher. If he didn’t before, he knows the team is thoroughly on his back now.
Khris Middleton’s much anticipated return has come and gone, but the key for Middleton is caution, keeping him healthy and easing him back into the game. Don’t expect too much from him, but he’s capable of playing a solid all-around game and contributing on both ends.
Coach Jason Kidd’s new starting lineup with Thon Maker at the four wasn’t particularly potent, but Maker’s development moves to the forefront of the Bucks team goals this season. As Kidd continues to tinker with lineups throughout games, expect Maker to get many different looks and take on an increased workload against the rebranded small-ball Pacers.
The Bucks have allowed opponents to shoot about seven more threes per game than the Pacers have been attempting, a crucial stat considering the Bucks penchant for allowing corner threes and one which could aid their struggling defense. In the Bucks five February games, they’ve also sent the opposition to the free throw line 30 times a game on average, eight more times than they allowed in all of January.
Besides the aforementioned Parker, Roy Hibbert is still questionable with a lingering knee injury.
The Indiana Pacers loss to the Washington Wizards featured struggles Bucks fans are accustomed to: poor defensive rebounding and a lack of three point shooting. Their All-Star Paul George remains a top player in the East and racked up 31 points, and their young big man Myles Turner will be a tough matchup for the Bucks’ centers.
After a rocky start to the Pacers season that saw their defensive identity repeatedly called into question by Paul George, Indiana has rebounded over the past six weeks, going on separate winning streaks of five and seven during that span. Last time Indiana faced Milwaukee, they were ranked 22nd in defensive rating. They’re now up to 12th in the league with a 107.9 rating, nearly identical to their offensive rating of 107.7 which ranks 17th.
George was named to his fourth All-Star game last month as a reserve. He’s been putting up stellar per-36 numbers, averaging 22.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals. However, he does have the lowest three-point attempt rate of his career, and the Pacers are just 27th in the league in three-point attempts (22.7/game) which bodes well for Milwaukee. One other quick tidbit on George, he’s shooting nearly 92% at the free throw line on 4.9 attempts per game. He isn’t getting to the line as frequently as last year, so Milwaukee will have to keep their long limbs from hacking him as much as possible.
George is surrounded by a cohort of new teammates including Jeff Teague, Turner and Thaddeus Young. Turner and Young are both shooting career highs from deep, 37.9% and 39.6% respectively, but together average just merely four attempts per game. Teague is averaging a career high in assists (8.2) despite his lowest usage percentage in five years (22.6).
Nate McMillan’s arrival was supposed to usher in a new era of fast-paced basketball for Indiana, but they’re down to the 12th ranked pace in the regular season. At this point, they’re roughly a half a percentage point faster in pace from last year, 99.56 to 98.99, and technically were ranked higher last year among their NBA colleagues (10th). They rank fourth in the league in percentage of points from the midrange as well (19.2), another promising trend for the Bucks.
Thaddeus Young is recovering from a sprained left wrist, but is expected to play.