A disappointing loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, 104-90, prevented the Bucks from taking sole possession of the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference Playoff race. That came after a stirring, gut-it-out victory against the Atlanta Hawks the Friday prior. Tonight, they buzz off to face the Charlotte Hornets, who dispatched the Phoenix Suns 120-106 this weekend.
Milwaukee’s inability to stop the Bulls from hitting shots proved a depressing way to spend a Sunday. The Bucks squandered a double digit lead in the second quarter, allowing Jimmy Butler to carve through them like a charcuterie butcher, netting 14 assists in the process.
Giannis Antetokounmpo started out promising, pouring in ten points in the first quarter before only mustering 12 more points the rest of the way. Khris Middleton wound up with his second poor shooting performance in a row, hitting just 6-17 en route to 14 points. Having your two best players play sub-optimally is never a fine recipe for a win. When Spencer Hawes 12 minute box score looks like a ghost town (0 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, 1 to), that doesn’t help either.
Regardless, Milwaukee remains a very good bet to make the playoffs at this point. 538 currently has them at an 89% chance to get in, and a victory tonight against Charlotte would be a nice kick in the grill to another team hanging onto the perilously mediocre Eastern Conference Playoff cliff. The Bucks haven’t faced the Hornets since the very first game of the season, and what a game that was.
Former Bucks’ bench folk hero Roy Hibbert actually played a key role in Charlotte’s 107-96 win, with 15 points, ten rebounds and five blocks. Giannis went off for 31, but Milwaukee went down with an inability to contain Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from scoring a number of opportune buckets near the hoop. Milwaukee’s been taking advantage of an uptick in clutch performance of late, pulling out close games they normally blew early in the season. Should it come to that, hopefully that trend remains in effect tonight.
John Henson is listed as out again tonight with his left thumb strain.
Charlotte’s been a baffling team all year, and the Bucks’ complete lack of contact with Buzz City for five months means their disappointing season has remained mainly out of mind for a Milwaukee team that’s gone through its own tumultuous streaks. The Hornets are currently 33-40 after beating a Suns team still smoking from Devin Booker’s 70-point night against the Celtics. Kemba Walker reached 31 points in the game, adding nine assists for good measure. Nicolas Batum notched 18 points, ten assists and six rebounds.
Their offense relies quite heavily on the pick and roll skills of lead guard Kemba Walker. He made his first All-Star Game this season, and is averaging a career best 23.8 points per-36 along with his finest shooting year from three (40.2%) on 7.3 attempts per game. His vast improvement in stroking the deep ball these past two years have greatly benefited his deadliness as a ball handler in those pick and rolls. He leads the league in P&R possessions per game this season (12.4) and is in the 83rd percentile for scoring efficiency. How well Brogdon and Dellavedova can slip through the screens of Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams and how Milwaukee corrects its defense if Walker shifts the court against double teams will be a key part of whether the Bucks’ defense succeeds tonight.
Any good pick and roll of course also comes with a roll man, and Cody Zeller rolls on around a third of his plays, scoring in the 60th percentile on those. Miles Plumlee is still working his way back from a calf injury, but Bucks fans are well aware of his ability to roll to the rim. Knocking out this staple of their offense is first priority.
As Frank mentioned on Monday’s Locked on Bucks, the Hornets are an odd team in that their 1.0 net rating for the season is actually tenth best in the league. However, they have merely the 20th best record in the league. Check out the full episode for more sage insight.
Unfortunately, a right ankle sprain to Johnny O’Bryant III will prevent Bucks’ fans from the viewing pleasure of an attempted JOB revenge game. He’s the only guy out for the Hornets though tonight.