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Bucks vs. Blazers Preview: Bucks Look to Bounce Back Against Resurgent Blazers

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The Bucks take on a Portland squad fresh off three straight wins

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee split its games over the weekend, winning a close game against the descending Los Angeles Lakers on Friday before getting blown apart by the Golden State Warriors, 117-92. The Blazers are coming in...blazing...having won their last three in a row including a 115-104 game on Sunday against the Miami Heat.

Bucks Update

Milwaukee’s loss put them at 2-2 on their Western Conference trip so far, and after the last two days of action they’re now sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game up on the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat and 1.5 games back of the Indiana Pacers for the sixth seed.

Golden State chopped apart Milwaukee’s defense all night Saturday, as Steph Curry provided his typical annihilation from deep. Giannis went into one of his passive phases, where after a brief stint in the first quarter he seemed to shut down, ending with just nine points, three assists, three rebounds, two steals and three blocks. Khris Middleton proved just as ineffective, tallying 11 points and five assists on just eight shot attempts.

It was a sobering dose of reality after Milwaukee came up with back-to-back wins in Los Angeles, and particularly disappointing given the Bucks’ penchant for playing the Warriors tough these last two years. Tonight they’ll face the dual-guard dynamos of Portland, whom they beat 115-107 back in December with a triple-double from Giannis.

Milwaukee’s perimeter defenders will have to corral Portland’s zippy, trigger-happy guards to prevent them from launching from deep uninhibited. Giannis should be able to take it to the interior, as the Blazers’ new starting center, Jusuf Nurkic, isn’t exactly renown for his defensive ability near the rim.

As per usual, Beasley is the only Bucks missing tonight.

Trail Blazers Update

Portland’s been a disappointing story for the vast majority of this season, failing to capitalize on the surprising playoff run they made one year ago. However, they’ve started upending teams of late, shooting their way back into the playoff conversation in the West with Denver and potentially Dallas. Currently, they sit just a half game back of Denver, and 538 has them at a 74% probability for the playoffs now after their strong performance over the last week.

Portland’s gone 9-6 since they traded Mason Plumlee to the Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick. The Bosnian brute has emerged from his sullen cocoon in Denver to play inspired basketball for the Blazers. Their offense is ranked sixth in the league over that stretch, up from their season-long 12th ranking. Meanwhile, their defense has buttoned up a smidge too, with their defensive efficiency down nearly one point per possession at 107.8. Not great, but with a dramatic offense like theirs, it doesn’t take much to juice that net rating into the positives.

Danny Chau of The Ringer wrote an insightful piece about how Nurkic’s general size is finally creating space for Lillard and McCollum in what was a slightly too claustrophobic offense this season. Milwaukee’s guards will have to fight through Nurkic’s barge-like screens tonight to avoid providing either of their fireballers enough oxygen to light up.

Lillard is averaging 36 points over their last ten games, including 54.8% from three-point land. That’s unsustainable, but Milwaukee ought to hope that the Basketball Gods make good for letting Stephen Curry splash away on Saturday night.

Ed Davis and Festus Ezeli are both out for the Blazers.