For the first time in some time, the Milwaukee Bucks are riding high. Their back-to-back wins over quality opponents, the Clippers and Raptors, over the weekend brought some much needed positivity to a once-wallowing Bucks squad. Tonight, they’ll hope to avoid a letdown against a Philadelphia squad they’re yet to beat this year.
Amidst consternation comes success, or so is the way this Bucks season seems to be going. Every time we’re ready to haul tankathon.com to our bookmark bars, the Bucks seem to find a way to temper our hands. This weekend was the latest example of that, and their win over the Raptors on Saturday night was surprising given both their lack of success against Toronto, and the fact they scored 12 freaking points in the first quarter.
Khris Middleton continued to show signs of his old life, pouring in a season-high 24 points versus the Raptors. Giannis tacked on 21 points and 10 boards with Malcolm Brogdon kicking in 17 points of his own. Milwaukee capitalized on a second quarter where they outscored the Raptors by 18 points and managed to hold them off the rest of the way.
The Bucks shot only 25% from deep against the Sixers in their last matchup, losing to a Philadelphia team that had good looks early on and finished shooting 12-26 (46.2%) from beyond the arc. While the Sixers did turn it over 24 times, the Bucks also coughed it up 19 times of their own. Their 16 turnovers combined in the last two games were a huge factor in helping them win. That will be another item to watch tonight, as they face a Sixers team without Embiid or Nerlens Noel defending the rim.
Michael Beasley is the only player listed as out tonight. He was scheduled to be re-evaluated after Saturday’s game against the Clippers, but there’s been no word yet on a timetable for his return.
Despite a 30-point loss to Detroit on Saturday night, the Sixers remained some level of competitiveness throughout the month of February. Sure, there are a few lopsided results, but for a team that traded one of its best players and lost its by far most valuable player to a knee injury, I’d say a four-victory month and an 11-point loss to the Warriors qualifies as competitive.
The star who’s stepped up in the absence of Embiid, Noel and most importantly, Herb Kohl’s favorite son, Ersan Ilyasova, is Dario Saric. Since February 1st, the rookie is averaging 16.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Saric was billed as a potential playmaking four coming from overseas, and the absence of playmakers has allowed him to fall into that role over the past month or so. He’s still only shooting 26.7% from three over that time, but his season average of 31.3% isn’t bad. The good news is that he’s lowered his turnover percentage despite increased usage. That’s progress, and his strong month has sent Saric into the weak rookie of the year debate that rages on.
The Sixers lead the league in turnover percentage, so the Bucks should look to capitalize the same way they did against the Clippers. They also have the worst offense in the league, but they’ve had no trouble scoring against Milwaukee this year with their seventh-most three-point attempts per game (29.3). That was the equalizer last time, and Milwaukee will need to contain their ball movement significantly better.
The Sixers added Justin Anderson from Dallas during the trade deadline for Nerlens Noel, giving them another potential 3-and-D wing for the Bucks stretchy roster to contain.
We’ve seen the Bucks win surprisingly before, only to fall flat on their faces against an inferior opponent in the aftermath. Tonight’s another opportunity for them to catch themselves before slamming their face in the mud.
Jerryd Bayless, Embiid, Simmons, Tiago Splitter and Gerald Henderson, who quietly roasted the Bucks for 20 points last time, are all out for Philly.