Milwaukee matched its longest winning streak of the season with a victory over the New York Knicks, 104-93, on Wednesday night. It could be argued this winning streak is more impressive than their previous one, which included back-to-back wins over the bumblin’, stumblin’ Brooklyn Nets,, but it also included a win against Cleveland so it’s negligible. Regardless, the Bucks are playing with confidence of late and about to face a team they’ve confidently beaten twice this year, the Indiana Pacers.
A blazing start for Milwaukee against New York set the team up with some of the most entertaining basketball they’ve played all year. A bevy of steals led to fantastical finishes on the other end by an assortment of players. As has been the case this year though, Milwaukee relented, eventually falling behind by 12 points to the Knicks in the third. That sparked an onslaught from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who bullrushed his way past Knicks defenders and led Milwaukee to a surprisingly commanding fourth quarter.
Dominating the second half put Giannis at 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks on the night. Khris Middleton flanked him with 18 points of his own, but Middleton was able to rest the entire fourth quarter with the team gleefully riding atop Giannis’ shoulders.
Milwaukee’s win steak corresponds with several intriguing factors that have flown in the face of their season-long trends. They’re attempting 27.8 3-pointers in those games, a mark that would tie with the Trailblazers for tenth-most in the league over the season. Perhaps more importantly, they’re only allowing 22.5 3-point attempts from their opponents per game, a mark that would rank just above the league leading Utah Jazz at 23.0 per game over the course of a full season. Now, these are ludicrously small sample sizes, so no conclusions should be drawn from these in any way. However, any defensive improvement this late in the season is a plus, and it’s something Jason Kidd even touched on in his post-game presser from New York.
In discussing Derrick Rose’s big night (26 points), Kidd commented that Matthew Dellavedova played directly into the Bucks’ game plan by allowing Rose to fire away from the midrange, thus helping avoid allowing 3-pointers. It may not mark a sea change, but hearing a strategic alteration like that has to be heartening for fans tired of opponent 3-point parades that plagued this team earlier in the season. Frank and Eric discussed some of these trends in greater detail and larger sample sizes while previewing the weekend’s slate on Locked on Bucks.
Beas is still out for Milwaukee, otherwise the rest of the roster is set to go.
Indiana crushed the Pistons on Wednesday night, 115-98, behind 21 points from Paul George. The Pacers held a commanding 17-point lead after three, and were able to let Monta Ellis and Glenn Robinson III carry them home. That’s probably all you need to know to understand how that game went.
Indiana’s been a win one, lose one team ever since the All-Star break. In keeping with their current pattern, the win on Wednesday would indicate a loss is coming against Milwaukee. And Indiana is no stranger to losing against Milwaukee this year, as the Bucks have surprisingly dominated both matchups winning 125-107 back in November and 116-100 last month.
Indiana’s 3-point averse offense has largely played into Milwaukee’s hands and Paul George hasn’t really gotten going against the Bucks’ defense. He scored 23 in their first contest, but only thirteen in the February tilt. Watching how Thon Maker and Greg Monroe fare against Myles Turner may be the most interesting portion of tonight. Thon had one of his best shooting nights of the season against Indiana, tying a season-high 12 points on 3-5 shooting from deep. His ability to keep Turner’s shot-blocking prowess away from the paint should help Giannis get to the tin in the early going.
Indiana isn’t missing anyone tonight.