Coming off the cuticle-chewing win over the Phoenix Suns yesterday 100-96, Milwaukee went wheels up last night taking a late flight to Cleveland. They’ll take on a Cavaliers team that got crushed by the Chicago Bulls, 117-99, largely due to the absence of one Lebron James.
Milwaukee’s weekend of games continued to provide little insight into where this team is ultimately heading this season. A blow out loss to the Jazz followed by a narrow win over an inferior Suns team would indicate a downward skid, but they did maintain their spot in the periphery of the playoff hunt.
Yesterday’s contest was a frustrating, brutish game made tolerable mainly by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Malcolm Brogdon’s second half scoring spurts that helped cinch the game for Milwaukee. Giannis ended with 28 points, eight rebounds and six assists with Brogdon chipping in 15 of his own. Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova played the same number of minutes, but Brogdon severely outplayed his Australian counterpart. The question of whether Brogdon deserves more minutes has been an open discussion all year, but his, at the very least, steady play over the sub-optimal performances by Delly indicate to me he should have more court time. Frank and Eric discussed that and much more on today’s Locked on Bucks:
Beyond that, Milwaukee again relied on the scoring efforts of Michael Beasley (17 points), who’s become a steadying bucket-getter once Jabari went down with his injury. Milwaukee hasn’t faced Cleveland since their back-to-back losses in December, the first of which went to overtime before ending in a 114-108 Bucks loss.
Both of those games sparked some increased intensity from a Cavaliers team that clearly didn’t enjoy getting blasted by Milwaukee back in November, 118-101. It also came out after those games that Lebron privately questioned the intensity of the Bucks’ two young stars and whether they only get up for big games.
Jabari may not be able to give Lebron a devastating dunk to cast doubt on that statement, but Giannis doesn’t usually need extra reason to play hard in a game against one of the league’s biggest stars. If Lebron play tonight, you can bet Giannis hasn’t forgotten that challenge from the King.
No injury updates for the Bucks, but Khris Middleton didn’t make the trip with the team and Jason Kidd announced that newly signed Axel Toupane will be available to play tonight if needed.
Before Saturday’s loss, Cleveland found their way to eight wins in nine games. Even in the wake of losing Kevin Love for the foreseeable future with a knee injury, the Cavaliers maintain the firepower to blast most of the league’s competition. The new arrivals since Milwaukee last played Cleveland include Kyle Korver, the former Hawks’ sharpshooter, and Derrick Williams, who recently signed another ten-day contract with the Cavaliers.
They’re also reported to be acquiring both Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut after they were respectively bought out from their own teams, but Milwaukee at least won’t have to worry about Bogut yet. Williams still hadn’t arrived with the team as of today’s shootaround. In the last Cleveland-Milwaukee games, Cleveland won about how you’d expect: three-pointers. In those two matchups, they hit 32 combined. The Cavaliers are second in the league still in three-point attempts at 33.8, and they’re hitting them at the second-best rate, a preposterous 39.0%. That’s never a good recipe for a Milwaukee defense prone to give up the long-ball in droves.
The glaring weakness continues to be their defense, ranked only 20th in the league in terms of efficiency. Their sore spots on that end, Kyrie Irving, Channing Frye, Kyle Korver among others, are guys Milwaukee will have to attack if they hope to keep it close. With Khris Middleton not making the trip today, Michael Beasley may get more playing time, and rest assured he’s licking his tattooed chops thinking about sizing up Frye on the court.
Lebron is listed with an illness and is still TBD as of this publication.