A narrow 93-90 victory in Portland last night put Milwaukee at 3-2 on their Western Conference trip, and improved their playoff odds with blown games by both the Bulls and Pistons last night. Tonight, they ship down the coastline for a trip to the beleaguered kingdom of Sacramento, where the league’s punching bag franchise have lost 10 of their last 12.
Milwaukee’s win last night placed them in the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference, just one game back of the Pacers, and two back of the Hawks for 5th. Another win tonight would be a nice capper for a road trip that’s gone about as well as the team could’ve hoped.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s game-sealing block of Damian Lillard in the final seconds of last night punctuated what was otherwise an odd performance from the Bucks’ star. Scoreless first and third quarters bookended a 15 point explosion in the second, and then he finished the night with 22 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks. Khris Middleton was chained to the rhythm all night, knocking down pull-up jumpers and slashing to the hoop for 26 points in the game.
Milwaukee struggled containing Lillard, particularly on pick and rolls, but a rare off-shooting night from deep (2-9) from the Blazers’ star helped Milwaukee win. There should be less issues with point guards in this battle, as Sacramento’s fleet of Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are far cries from Lillard’s pull-up wizardry or dribbling acumen.
John Henson got extensive play last night too, with Thon only recording three minutes. Henson came up with some timely blocks and put-backs in the game, but it was telling that after being re-inserted for his rim protection in the final minutes, he stood watching Giannis make the closing defensive play after Lillard had zipped past Henson’s hedge.
Selfishly, I am hoping Thon Maker gets more run tonight against the bizarre frontcourt of the Kings. In particular, the Thon-Skal Labissiere matchup is one that would bring me great pleasure, with two of last years most intriguing draft prospects facing off with their distinct frames and skill sets.
Beasley should be the only Buck out again tonight.
Since Sacramento’s galvanizing victory over the Nuggets following the All-Star Break and Demarcus Cousins’ surprising shipment to New Orleans, they’ve gone merely 2-10. Both of those victories came over the tanktastic Suns and Magic too. They fell to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, 118-102.
The departure of Cousins has opened up significant playing time for their collection of young centers that were mired behind him. Kosta Koufos is still getting the starts, but Skal Labissiere and George Papagiannis have been getting a chance to prove themselves as Sacramento flushes itself down the lottery standings. Labissiere is averaging 11.1 points per game since the All-Star Break on 63.9% true shooting. He also went off for a 32 point explosion against Phoenix several games ago. Papagiannis still feels like more of a novelty at this point, averaging just under 12 minutes per game in his seven games since the Break with a poor 48.5% true shooting for a big man, but he’s posting a decent 21.0% rebound percentage so there’s at least something there.
Beyond that, the crown jewel of the Cousins trade in owner Vivek Ranadive’s eyes was Buddy Hield. Hield’s shooting well, 63.2% true shooting and 46% from deep, but he’s getting to the free throw line less than two times per game and turning the ball over at the highest clip on the team. Willie Cauley-Stein has played well in Cousins’ absence, but Giannis should test his defensive skills mightily tonight.
The Kings are bottom ten in 3-pointers attempted for the year, 24.3, but top five in terms of percentage, 37.3%. Portland only got off 21 attempts from deep last night, and the Bucks, per usual, would do well to keep that number low again tonight.
Rudy Gay and Malachi Richardson are the only two Kings out tonight.