Two losses to the Miami Heat this week have Milwaukee Bucks fans in a frenzy over their team losing ground in the playoff race. Tonight, they head to Philadelphia hoping to maintain their slight edge over the Sixers for the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.
A win Monday against the Wizards was quickly forgotten amidst the bookended disappointing losses against the Miami Heat on Sunday and Wednesday. Jason Kidd’s postgame comments drew much ire from the fanbase, accrediting their struggles to youth and depicting the situation as essentially out of the coach’s control. That is off-base and pretty asinine to be honest, but Milwaukee needs to brush themselves off from this depressing week to take down a Philly squad that’s riding high after a victory over the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately, that outcome seems unlikely tonight with Giannis resting dud to that same “left knee soreness” he suffered over the summer and Malcolm Brogdon out for personal reasons. Instead fans will likely be treated to the comedy stylings of D.J. Wilson. I’m sure this will go over well after the week everyone just went through. It gets sadder too as we will officially go more than a week Giannis-less until he returns next Friday.
Giannis Antetokounmpo will not only miss Saturday's game in Philly but will also miss Monday's home game against Phoenix. Expected back for Brooklyn game. Bucks actively managing the health of his right knee, something they've been doing since summer. More coming on JSOnline.— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) January 20, 2018
The Bucks won their last two contests against Philadelphia last year, but started the year blowing leads and even losing to them while Joel Embiid was out. He’s set to go tonight though as the All-Star starter looks to feast on Milwaukee’s rail-thin frontcourt.
Player to Watch: John Henson
Henson has a tall task tonight containing Joel Embiid. His brute force speaks for itself, but he has enough wiggle as a big man to draw one of Milwaukee’s rim protectors away from the hoop before whisking by him for thunderous slams. Henson will have to be disciplined tonight when trying to deny Embiid the ball in opportune spots, and his fellow Bucks can’t go overboard supporting Henson in the post. Henson was bullied by Hassan Whiteside in Thursday’s game and will need to avoid a similar drubbing tonight by the Sixers’ best player.
Joel Embiid is the headliner for this Philadelphia squad, and his 26 point, 16 rebound and six assist performance led the way for an 89-80 win over the Kyrie Irving-less Boston Celtics. Ben Simmons had a quiet night (eight points, seven rebounds and four assists), but his 16.6 points, 8 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.9 steals illustrate his all-around worth to this budding Philadelphia team. After falling to 15-19, the Sixers have catapulted back into playoff contention by winning six of seven games. They’re ranked second in the league in pace, nothing new under Brett Brown, but also lead the league by a wide margin in turnover percentage at 17.5%. The 1.6% points between them and the second worst team (Los Angeles Lakers), is the same as the gap between the Lakers and the ninth ranked Pistons. In short, Milwaukee needs to capitalize on the opportunities Philadelphia will inevitably give them to make up for the likely battering they’ll take in the post from Embiid and Simmons. Philadelphia’s forged their success on the fourth stingiest D in the league this year too, so it should be a good test for Milwaukee’s continued offensive success.
Player to Watch: Ben Simmons
We already indicated Simmons gaudy stats earlier with his season averages, but his preternatural skills as a passer are instrumental for a team that likes to move quickly. He’s able to find pockets few can see and uses his burly size to batter towards the hoop looking to finish or dish to a shooter on the perimeter. Unfortunately, the same thing that hindered him coming out of college remains an issue in the NBA. He’s attempted just 10 3-pointers all year long, and outside of 0-3 feet where he shoots an excellent 74.3%, he’s hitting just 36.5% of his shots. Expect Milwaukee to give him plenty of leeway inside the arc to let his janky jumper loose.